Reviews in this issue:
Claudia System - Dreamcatcher
Stating that you like sci-Fi, fantasy, Mellotron, kebabs, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Procol Harum on the press sheet and ending it with: "our music is Prog...ish", might raise some expectancy to the music. Drawing on these influences, adding their own bits and pieces and mixing it all up in a big, black cauldron, quickly diminishes it, not enhanced by the utterly childish artwork. Which is just as well, for it turns out to be more ...ish than prog.
With no information anywhere to be found on the band, this could easily be a one-man project. Out of the 12 tracks featured, most of them follow a simple strategy of laying down a rhythm, beat or atmosphere on which ambient sounds, slight diversifications and variations on keyboards are the main distinctive differences. Manageable for a single person as such. And yes, in case you wonder Cyber Jungle features some jungle noises, Floating Down The Rabbit Hole feels like being adrift on fluffy, ambient shores and Trouble In Fearieland encompasses happy electronic trance/dance circumstances.
At first it all seems to start out fine, with influences of eighties new wave and synth-pop, giving images of David Bowie, Midge Ure and their contemporaries. Not with great depth, but largely predictable shallowness, sprinkled with some psychedelic hypnotics. Dragon Flight and The Abominable Dr. Phibes manage to evoke thoughts of Depeche Mode (only for an instant), but gradually the feel of the album changes towards foremost electronic and ambient surroundings.
My first thoughts where of Church Of Hawkwind or early eighties solo material of Dave Brock. Not the best period in Hawkwind's career in my opinion, and in this particular case that would be even too much appraisal. Maybe Nash The Slash comes close, though that's too experimental in comparison. They (or he/she) do occasionally try, by implementing weird sounds as in the uplifting It Came From Outer Space! filled with spacious synth, blips and quirky sci-fi madness. This is the only rewarding track with some kind of proggy, melodic substance.
There's too little variety to keep one occupied and focused on the music. The sparse, dull, monotonous vocals degrade it further, acting merely as a distraction and emphasising the simplistic nature of the songs, which to me sound like a hobby gone rogue.
My best guess is that this will go down well at dance parties and can act as background music at a club. Normally that's the only time I'll listen to this type of music, whilst having a late night kebab. As to when that last happened, my mind draws a blank, which is a normal effect after some extensive consumption.
Electric Asturias - Trinity
I have always enjoyed albums where bombast and subtlety collide and collude. Trinity does just that and more. Electric Asturias is one of the creative outlets for bassist and group leader Yoh Ohyama. Over the years, there have been a number of variations of his Asturias project. These include Acoustic Asturias, and Electric Asturias.
The original Asturias emerged in 1987 and they have produced seven albums using this moniker. The latest of which was the excellent Across The Ridge To Heaven released in 2018. Acoustic Asturias have thus far produced three albums. Trinity marks the third release by the electric incarnation of the band and follows on from their enjoyable Elementals album released in 2014 and reviewed here on DPRP.
Trinity is a highly accomplished album. The band has a cohesive sound, and although the compositions are tightly sprung, the group’s performance has an infectious air of spontaneity, one that makes the whole album an attractive and engaging experience.
The principal instrument of the band is the violin, and some of the most exciting passages on offer involve violinist Tei Sena's virtuoso performance and mastery of her instrument. However, Trinity offers many other different dimensions and an array of exciting instrumental colours.
The sensitive use of piano and keyboards fill and embellish the music, adding and creating a range of moods, and offering a near perfect contrast and accompaniment to the strident and delicate violin passages that frequently carry the melodies. Similarly, there are many examples when the guitar has a key role to play. The contribution of guitarist Satoshi Hirata is tasteful and precise, but he sensitively and decisively uses distortion and yelping aggression when the music requires it.
I have a friend who baulks at the idea of using the violin as a principal instrument in prog. For him the primary sonic colour of choice is always the guitar, and closing his mind to the use of the bow extends to such classic albums as Larks Tongues I Aspic and Birds Of Fire.
I intend to introduce him to Trinity at some point (maybe more in hope than expectation) and watch his mouth open and his jaw drop, as the flamboyant bowing and fire-streaked playing of Tei Sena ignites and excites his aural pathways (or at the very least creates a reluctant nod of approval).
The album begins in gratifying style, but the first two pieces are merely a satisfying taster for the excellence that is to follow. Expectations rise for the rest of the album, when it reveals its true quality in a blistering succession of tunes beginning with Skelter. The high standard of composition and performance continues in an unabated fashion, with the plaintive shadow-grey musings of Crow and the red-faced, boisterous, brash group-interaction of Rogus.
Rogus marks the first time when the bass has a prominent place in the mix, and Yoh Ohyama's deep-toned embellishments do not disappoint. The tune also apparently features in the Juushin video game. Skelter also shares a similar heritage, and is a part of an action sequence in the Kangokutou Mary video game.
Whatever its origins, it is a spectacular, head-shaking and limb-flicking sort of tune. It is incredibly well played. Rogus is skilful, frantic, animated, and just great fun. The interplay, jousting and duelling between the guitar and the violin is spectacular and gives the piece a fist-shaking, deep, lasting appeal.
The Gorgon Suite follows and this three-part epic covers a range of styles over its 20-minute duration. Like all great prog suites, ideas and themes dart in and out, to be reprised or re-emerge in a different guise at various points.
Medusa begins with the slow, regal dignity and poignant musing of a fully-piped organ. It then transforms and morphs into a crunchy, baroque-type rhythm and melody, led by violin and ably supported by all of the other players. This opening piece in the suite works well on many different levels and there are times when its mix of bombast, spirited keys, twisted chamber rock and silver back guitar lines, really hit the right spot.
The second part of the suite is more frantic, with complex rhythms, and stop/start sections of subtlety and chaotic bombast. The bass-heavy energy and syncopated rhythms are reminiscent of Magma. I particularly liked the deep, fuzzed bass effect that introduces Stheno and reappears on different occasions in this standout tune.
The final part is gentle and for the most part serenely beautiful. Wisps of its aural scent cascade in all directions, to leave the listener satisfied in every respect. As one might expect, as the tune surges forward and gathers pace and intensity, it includes a reprise of some of the melodies and themes first introduced in Medusa.
Trinity is a very enjoyable instrumental album. It contains a number of styles, but it will particularly appeal to any listeners who have an affinity with ingredients associated with symphonic prog. Its flowing mix of violin, keyboards, guitar, bass and drums exhibits much empathy and considerable aplomb.
All of the tunes have many notable points, and offer numerous things to admire, as they sprint and jog skilfully to their conclusion. The album features the accomplished use of mood, tempo and dynamics. The combination of these admirable components, will no doubt tick many boxes for a number of prog fans. I certainly will continue to listen to Trinity on a regular basis.
Machines Dream - Revisionist History
Disc 2: Boundaries (4:48), Toronto Skyline (7:59), London By Night (4:54), Unarmed At Sea (7:38), Mad For All Seasons (10:31), Stop Waiting For Miracles (4:14), Locusts (4:23), Colder Rain (5:22), Everyone Says Goodbye (3:58), The Session (11:47)
In his positive review of Machines Dream’s third studio album, Black Science, John Wenlock-Smith stated that it was "sadly the first [he’d] heard, which is a shame, as Black Science is a very strong album". Read the full review here.
Well I find myself echoing John’s thoughts with the release of Revisionist History. This consists of the first two Machines Dream albums (2012’s Machines Dream and 2014’s Immunity) both re-recorded, remixed, remastered and sequenced, to sound as the band felt the music deserved to be heard. It also includes original missing tracks and deserves to be treated as a new release.
All I can add to John’s observations is: where have this band been hiding! Revisionist History is a collection of fabulous, song-focused progressive rock with symphonic and heavy prog leanings. The punchy melodies and expansive (even in the shorter songs) arrangements deserves the epithet "widescreen".
And widescreen is what you get on the opening track, Immunity. Structured around the introductory piano motif that re-occurs throughout the song, it is an exploration of depression and potential suicide without being depressing. Its protagonist's fate is left hanging ambiguously. It manages to deal with a tough subject and remain strangely uplifting with its swathes of guitar, keyboards, rock-solid rhythms and sax, attached to hummable melodies.
Even though Immunity is 25 minutes long, it never rambles and neither does it feel stitched together from shorter songs. Songcraft is everything to these guys. Which is plainly evident across both albums.
The five musicians never let their evident virtuosity get in the way of the melodies or structures, working in service of these fine prog songs. The solos they drop in, are on-point and emotionally charged. Among the many highlights are the great synth solos on Trading Stars For Solitude and A Poor Turn For The Soul. The guitars fly on the bluesy Broken Door, Toronto Skyline and the blindingly good ballad Unarmed At Sea.
Main songwriter, lead vocalist and bass guitarist Craig West has a voice that mixes the worldly experience and the tones of Roger Waters, The Tangent’s Andy Tillison, and Mostly Autumn’s Bryan Josh. I think his voice fits right in with the music.
It would be a mammoth task (and possibly a tedious read) to track-by-track the gems that make up Revisionist History. All I can say is go listen to the samples and get on board with Machines Dream. This is a terrific release.
N.Ex.U.S. - N.Ex.U.S.
Strange one, this debut album by Italian melodic prog rockers, N.Ex.U.S.
The band was formed in 2015 by Christian Checchin (guitar) and Fausto Tessari (keyboards). Two close friends, they initially shared their passion for music by playing in various cover bands, before they decided to compile some unreleased material they’d written over the years, as well as to generate some new songs.
The duo then searched for a singer and a rhythm section to bring their music to life. Tommaso Galeazzo, Daniele Gallan and Fabio Tomba were hired on vocals, bass and drums respectively.
For the first dozen minutes, this has all the ingredients of a classic neo-prog concept album. After an overlong intro piece, ...The System is a keyboard-heavy instrumental. Two shorter (slightly under-developed) tracks then give the impression of building up to something interesting.
Then a sudden transformation. The band becomes a melodic prog-metal outfit in the vein of fellow Italians Stamina and Vision Divine. Reflections is a great song in this vein, whilst the debut single The Mercenary takes a more AOR approach, especially in the text-book build-up to the hook-laden chorus.
Another Shore is a decent neo-prog-meets-AOR ballad and acts as a showcase for Tommaso Galeazzo's vocals.
The closing duo are the most prog-ly-metallic. On Final Act A New Humanity, a hint of djent progresses the sort of Dream Theater-inspired prog-metal usually heard by Italian bands such as Soul Secret. John Doe is the longest and most progressive track. Half is a Dream Theater workout, the other half is a keyboard-led proggy exploration. The track moves nicely between the two, but lacks a hook to raise it above the mundane.
Now I'm not sure whether it is that blend of older compositions and newer song-writing that has given this album two very different complexions, or whether it is just a new band trying to find its identity. Their ventures into heavier territory are more effective. The tracks in which they blend the neo-prog and prog-metal offers the most potential. In truth either could work, as the members know their way around their instruments in both styles and the singer is excellent. Placing the prog-metal and the neo-prog in different songs on the same album is just strange.
Andrew Wild - The Beatles, An A-Z Guide To Every Song [Book]
Having read Andrew Wild's biography about Twelfth Night (Play On) some years ago, I was looking forward to reading his newest venture on The Beatles. Liking his descriptive style, his ways of interpretation and his thorough research, I was expecting to enjoy some lovely, quiet moments reading up on musical history through the albums and songs of this infamous foursome. The page-turning ability as proven on the aforementioned Play On, and most recently in Queen on Track - Every Album, Every Song led me look forward to a relaxed sunny day. It turned out to be a hard days night of, (by lack of a better word) studying.
Each book in the On Track series by Sonic Bond Publishing, according to their own website, discusses the output of a particular band and is aimed at die-hard fans. The Every Album, Every Song section in these series manages to successfully build a bridge between the casual reader and the devoted fan who wants to know everything ever done by his favourite artist.
Let me start by stating that if you are part of the latter, then don't hesitate to buy this. I've yet to encounter a more thoroughly researched discography. I think I never will again.
My main appetite for reading up about The Beatles, and probably this also goes for most readers here at DPRP, is in getting insights into their iconic records, which altered and shaped the history of music, whether they'd be progressive or not. They obviously were far ahead of their time, and of great importance to music as we know it today. I can randomly imagine the worldly importance of Give Peace A Chance, their groundbreaking work on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the famous rooftop concert and eventful manifestations like Lennon's in-bed protests (with Yoko Ono). All that happened before my time, and many more are included in the book; not described in detail but remarked as a fact, hidden in short descriptions of the songs.
The book, comprehensive within its 336 pages, contains the complete output of The Beatles, taking its starting point on the 6th of July 1957 when Paul McCartney and John Lennon first got introduced to each other after a performance by The Quarry Men in which Lennon played. It ends with the release of Let It Be on the 8th of May 1970, just a month after The Beatles officially split up into four fab single artists. And every song (really every single one!) in between these dates, gets described and appraised. Songs featured on (live) albums, covers played by them, singles, radio sessions, live performances, participations in whichever form with other artists. You name it, you got it.
To keep things organised the author uses an effective method explained on page 9 on how to use the book and understand the format used on a song. This varies from a simple line-accounting existence (for example I'm In Love, an unfinished George Harrison song from 1964) to extensive, page-filling facts mentioning the many different versions, out-takes, recordings and official availability (Twist and Shout and others). Andrew's 25 years of committed research and detailed compiling has certainly paid off in being near complete, and from a collector's point of view is a sure delight. The "Encyclopedia Britannica" might quite possibly be envious of this. But there's a backside to all this excellence.
The book is paragraphed from A to Z, making it an anti-chronological roller-coaster ride in which you shift back and forth between albums, recording sessions and name droppings. The result is a dazzling stream of information. So much so, that it greatly hampers readability. Maybe it's my age, but my brain can't cope with this much information per page any more. I had to put the book down on many occasions as a result, just to let everything sink in and get a clear head. Admittedly some of that info has stuck with me, but more as a mere vague memory and nothing else.
Next to some significant information which is also easily found on the internet, it's the off-topic things that stay in my mind the most, which is likely not intended by the author.
These quirky odd bits contaminate this bible by adding some unnecessary expansions only digestible to the Beatles extremists. The working titles of songs get a proper mention and are then referenced onto the resulting track, making you browse the book back and forth. It is absolutely correct to do things in this way, but I tend to lose focus because of this. Besides this, the book curiously contains tracks which aren't even remotely related to the Beatles. Maisy Jones coming to mind as a an example. A Beatlesque song supposedly written by Lennon/McCartney which is actually a track written by Wilson of Nimbo, released in 1971.
Several songs are even referenced to a press advertisement of a bootleg, Unfinished Music Volume I, and apparently in his findings he never found any further info, proof or an actual copy. So therefore do these tracks actually exist? And is arranging titles by applying the A-, An- and The-particle rules to songs like Hard Days Night, A thereby arranging them under a different "first" letter, really necessary?
All this extra workload distracts me as a reader and slowly pulls me away from the sole purpose of a book for me. It doesn't create images of the past or ignite memories of when I first discovered the unique music of The Beatles when I was young. I doesn't bring across the greatness they achieved and deserve, both as a band, and as individuals. Help through the aid of colourful diversions such as some photo's or pictures would have been nice, but sadly it's just plain text, making it all too much. What's left is dry content, where even Andrew's funny, likeable remarks, observations and personal preferences and dislikes are like grains of sand in a desert.
Based on the amount of information given, his fanaticism and the archaeological commitment in his research, this reference work would have undoubtedly been rated an A+ as a thesis. I'd prefer a more picturesque story, which Andrew is perfectly capable of as shown in his other books. Still no denying that this is a brave attempt in creating his life's work, so therefore I'll meet him halfway. In conclusion, this particular book seems targeted at avid addicts, fanatics and die-hard Beatles-fans but may prove too much of a telephone-directory-read for anyone just generally interested.