Reviews in this issue:
Karma Rassa - Vesna... Snova Vesna
The first time I heard these guys was shortly before their performance at ProgPower 2015. I was very pleased by their mix of my old love progressive rock and new-found love post-rock, with a tendency towards post-metal, and a penchant for melancholic or downright sad songs. Important ingredients I love.
Last year saw the release of their third and latest album Vesna... Snova Vesna (Spring... Spring Again) and I was obviously looking forward to it a lot.
I don't understand Russian but not understanding the lyrics never bothered me. The songs are titled after the seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring Again. I don't know whether there's a concept behind it, but what I do know is that it's nothing like Four Seasons, fortunately. Anticipated fun and frolic in Spring is crushed by expected melancholy. Sad music just happens to touch me more than any other music.
All songs have sections that are more post-rock but are far from the rather formulaic and limited vocabulary I hear with several post-rock bands. They take their time in building up and changing sections, but change is there always soon enough. Lots of piano and then there is a keyboard solo. A saxophone, a flute? Yep. Guitar duets, duets by keyboard and guitar, or saxophone and guitar, while the other instruments keep the whole thing in motion, often in rapid speed.
I remember the ProgPower gig as being heavier, have Karma Rassa gone soft? There's a good mix, a few good heavy sections (I wouldn't mind more of those). I think it's more like Karma Rassa is going prog! In that respect I think this album will appeal to a wider prog audience than their previous work.
Zima is the most diverse track, with more epic and accessible melodies going towards keyboards-led prog-metal, but also more complex post-rock riffing. And as always some melancholic sections, making this track especially oppressive, haunting almost.
On the whole, it's clear Karma Rassa have taken a step forward. The compositions have matured (although I always like a bit of raw punk power) and both mix and production are excellent. A little more darkness than light but that's just how I like it. And always with power and overwhelming beauty.
I can listen to this album from start to finish without my concentration wandering for a moment. And then again and again. To my ears and taste, this album has no weak points, it takes me to several places that I love via routes that include several unexpected twists and turns.
Lucas Lee - Lowered Expectations
Zappa’s question as to whether humour belongs in music might have been answered many times, but recently never so wacky, weird, humorous and intriguing as with Lowered Expectations by Lucas Lee. On the surreal front cover thematically depicting the extremities and craziness of people he ironically and (probably) intentionally heightens expectations mentioning “featuring Marco Minnemann”. The inside of the CD package is in direct contradiction ranting about why we always aim at the best, and what’s the definition of the best anyway? Maybe his "musical nonsense" (I quote!) can alter our perceptions?
Apart from Minnemann, who supplied the drums of course, it’s Lee who’s responsible for all other instruments by playing electric/acoustic and bass guitars as well as piano/keyboards and violins. What to expect? Instrumental rock fusion extraordinaire might just cover it, though it’s not strictly instrumental for there are quirky spoken lyrics and sentences substantially adding weirdness and uniqueness to his heavy, "out there", fused guitar rock.
Lee's murmurings have many superficial layers but so many more lying underneath, all supplying great depth. Undefinable musical structures fueled by heavy guitars, fuzzy bass, strikingly accurate drum-virtuoso and ingenious strangeness add to otherworldly experiences. Once stepped into his world it gives great pleasure, mildly instigates self reflection and a satisfactory feeling in the fact as not to take everything so competitively serious. "Enjoy!" seems to be the message!
And that’s what the six tracks offer in abundance, enjoyment. Sometimes frisky, jazzy and right down melancholic up to heavy sentimental progressive; it’s a complete package sending a message across. Apart from the obvious Zappa reference there are plenty of influences detectable on this goofy record. Two of those stand out to me. Frequently the riffs in combination with the bass-lines ignite reminiscent thoughts of early 70s Rush, aided by the computerized voices provoking thoughts of Cygnus X-1. Moreover the fuzzy powerful bass in combination with the jazzy guitars and organic keys are Beyond The Moon and sparkle happy thoughts of Mutiny Up My Sleeve by Max Webster. The weirdness and silliness in lyrics casually portrayed amplifies this even further.
So, we ought to have "lowered expectations", but this is a welcome addition for fans of jazzy, semi-instrumental, experimental progressive rock. Not easy to swallow, and once taken in too quickly likely to end in a Hangover, but remember what Max said: Alka-Seltzer!
Mark Nauseef - Personal Note
Mark Nauseef has played drums amongst the greatest and most illustrious names in hardrock. He played with Ronnie James Dio in Elf, was part of a Velvet Underground line-up and recorded music with the likes of Jon Lord, Ian Gillan, Gary Moore, and Thin Lizzy. After meeting pianist and composer Joachim Kühn in the early 80s, he out of the blue switched over to totally different environments; psychically moving over to Hamburg in Germany and musically changing his direction towards jazz-rock fusion.
Personal Note, his first solo attempt, was released in 1982 and is now finally available in Europe thanks to the efforts of record-label Chikadisc from Poland. On the album he used the crafts of various talented musicians in the likes of aforementioned Kühn (piano, sax), Trilok Gurtu (percussion, drums), George Kochbeck (electric piano, moog bass), Jan Akkerman (guitar on track 4, 6), Detlev Beier (acoustic bass on track 3, 5) and Phil Lynott (vocals on track 1). All together they concoct an adventurous inventive take on free styled epic improvised jazz fusion.
With a percussive twist that is, for the album is filled to the brim with an astonishing diversity and array of drums including anything that can be used as drums like woodblocks, industrial surfaces, tablas, congas, cowbell, pans. You name it, it’s probably been hit to create a sound or an effect, evidently shown in Talking Drum (For Ariel) where Nauseef and Gurtu create a worldly avant-garde vibe.
The most memorable aspect of the album is featured on Chemistry, a wild energetic funky free style jazz-rock composition, ever so slightly reminiscent of Snowball. Improvised on the spot (written on cigarette packages actually), Lynott brilliantly delivers a one of a kind fierce rap demonstrating his genius and perfect adaptability to any sort of music.
After the mellow Doctor Marathon Part 1, featuring laid-back jazzy drum rhythms and demanding sax from Kühn, the album throws of its chains in part 2. More up tempo, it’s overwhelming free spirited jazz, kept in place by tight rhythmic drums where swirling improvised piano-parts alternate with freaky soloing guitars ending in a weird crescendo completed by voice generated sounds and effects.
Corsica, this time rhythmically held firm by acoustic bass from Beier brings back memories of old style Solution. Swerving from left to right on piano, it’s supplemented by swinging drums and alto sax solos from Kühn. Fillmore lastly battles it all out with every instrument ingeniously supplementing each other creating harmony and unison in this improvised experimental eclectic track.
Recommending it for DPRP feels quite tricky, for this is bordering the very outskirts of prog, but if you like jazz, world music and fusion be sure to give it a try. As an admirer of Lynott I found a little gem along the way. Maybe you will too.
Nauticus - Disappear In Blue
I would describe Nauticus third effort as an intense work. Intense is the word that comes to my mind after listening to it quite a few times. Believe me it's not an easy album to listen to; you need to be very focused and for a long period of time for this close to eighty minutes opus. The good news is that if you can do all of this you will discover a very good album.
The band describe their own sound as a synthesis of weird / maniac song structures and sludgy progressive experimental rock with ethereal soundscapes. This is true and you will also find some good melodies balancing the compositions. Going through the songs, the listener will find the oceanic references of the titles and the deep sound will introduce you into their ocean from the opening track Magma. A good starting point but don't expect the same references to Mastodon in all the songs.
Jesus Of Lübeck is the second track. It's not so much a separate track but an interlude that could have been included in Claimed By The Sea, the first long song on the album. This one goes even deeper in its sound with great drums and bass lines before entering the atmospheric phases that you will also find in later songs. This song can be a bit long but one thing is for sure, you are now immersed in the ocean so let's go to Stranger Sequences / Lost Frequencies, the second ten minutes song. Starting again with great drumming and bass and good guitar work, this time having intense melodies in the middle of the song until the powerful finale with echoes of Tool.
I’ve not mentioned the vocals but that does not mean this is an all instrumental album. The band lost their main vocalist and for this album they have worked with several guest vocalists, so it's not easy to judge them. To me they fit perfectly into the sludgy sound of Nauticus without compromising the dynamic arrangements and add deeper and dramatic touches when needed.
Desolation is the second interlude and this time if fits well and gives the listener a break before the second part of the album, which contains the best songs starting with Singularity. There’s more prog here than metal and well executed guitar lines letting the vocals create one of the highlights of the album. Arrival comes next and again we are in a complex song with many changes of tempo including the chaotic first twenty seconds. In this one there’s great vocals games (I really like them) and all the things that I have mentioned before. Maybe the best example of Nauticus’ sound and the song that best describes their current style, if that's possible.
Again we find another interlude in Whales Bones and again I could live without it. Hieronymus continues to show how important the drums and bass are for the band, along with the deep atmospheres. This time I would say that it could have been shorter because we have a great song to close the album and it deserves all the attention. A perfect rhythm section for Glass Pyramids, perfect choruses and beautiful female vocals to close this long and intense work.
So, as I said before, take your time to listen and enjoy this album. You will find doom, metal, experimental progressive, but overall you will find a very good album, particularly if you like diving deep into atmospheric and complex sounds.
Steve Pilkington - On Track... Deep Purple & Rainbow - Every Album, Every Song: 1968-1979 [Book]
There’s an old saying, 'You can’t judge a book by its cover'. Not so in the case of the On Track series from Sonicbond Publishing where the cover, and more specifically the title says it all.
The latest in the series, Deep Purple & Rainbow - Every Album, Every Song: 1968-1979 includes the albums recorded by the Mark I, II, III and IV versions of Deep Purple as fronted by Rod Evans, Ian Gillan and David Coverdale respectively. Given that Purple imploded in 1976 (before reforming in 1984) the first five Rainbow albums are included to see out the decade. Such was the chequered career of both bands, there’s not one person who appears on every album in the book (although Ritchie Blackmore comes closest, absent from just two).
The author Steve Pilkington was responsible for the excellent Black Sabbath Song By Song ((review here)[http://www.dprp.net/reviews/2018-016#blacksabbath]) and this book follows the same format. Every song is comprehensively appraised and although he’s clearly an enthusiast, Pilkington doesn’t shy away from criticism. As a result, although classic songs like Child In Time, Highway Star, Burn, Soldier Of Fortune, Stargazer and many others receive their due praise, there’s hardly an album that comes away completely unscathed. For the record, this reviewer was a Purple Mk II fan circa 1970-1971 and still has the original versions of Concerto For Group And Orchestra, In Rock and Fireball nestling in his vinyl collection.
Compared with Andrew Wild’s book Queen On Track ((review here)[http://www.dprp.net/reviews/2018-090#wild]) Pilkington’s approach is perhaps less scholarly and whilst he manages to inject a little humour along the way he treats his subject matter with respect. He outlines the structure and core elements of each song, the contributions of each musician and the song’s significance in the overall scheme of the band’s development. For each album he also devotes a section to the sleeve and artwork which fans, especially vinyl buffs, will appreciate.
Whilst commenting on each album, Pilkington also traces the career of both band and includes snippets from interviews with band members. It's interesting to note that a certain band member (yes you know who I’m referring to) was responsible for the dissolution of more than one Purple lineup. Like so many bands before and since (Yes, anyone?), it seems that democracy and diplomacy did not rank highly when it came down to business.
Coincidentally, the timeline of this book is the same as Martin Popoff’s 2016 tome The Deep Purple Family: Year By Year - Volume 1 (to 1979), (Volume 2 followed in 2018). Pilkington however rounds off this book with an ‘Epilogue’ which brings the story of both bands up to date including the return of Purple Mark II in the 1980s, the Steve Morse era and various other offsprings including Whitesnake and Blackmore’s Night. As he opinions however, they didn’t have the same impact as their 1970’s counterparts.
Whilst the scope of most other books in the series are restricted to studio albums, Pilkington includes the live albums. As such, given Purple’s reputation as a formidable live act, Concerto For Group And Orchestra, Made In Japan and Made In Europe receive their due recognition (as does Rainbow’s On Stage). There is also a chapter devoted to compilations and ‘official bootlegs’ so hardly an album or song from the period is left unturned.
Although this book has a relatively lean 127 pages of text, its supplemented with 12 pages of colour photos which in addition to album covers and band pics includes items from the authors own collection such as concert programmes and ticket stubs, which is always good to see.
Overall, this is an excellent addition to the On Track series and a book that every respectable Deep Purple, Rainbow and 1970s hard-rock fan should have sitting in their bookcase. In fact, if you're planning a holiday in the not too distant future this would make an ideal companion for whiling away a few days in the sun (whilst wearing a T shirt emblazoned with the name of your favourite band of course).