Reviews in this issue:
Delgift - Our Spirit
Delgift - Journey On
From once glance at his Facebook site, I get the feeling Claudio "Delgift" Rodriquez lives by making music. After The Essential Delgift (review here) and his band effort Light (review here), he has dedicated his time in-between his travels to record and release two further digital albums: Our Spirit and Journey On. The first being a 21-minute suite featuring Fernando Refay (keyboards) and Nicolás Jourdain (drums), while the second one is a full album featuring many musicians, with recordings done in several places.
Journey On shows Delgift doing what he does best: performing smooth and lovely blues-orientated, well composed songs, filled with fresh ideas and a testimony to his guitar-skills. The progressive aspects however, as showcased on his previous efforts, are now only delicately apparent in some tracks, and most of the music falls into the rock and jazz/fusion category with some delving into folk. This far into his career (this being his ninth album) he still manages to progress though, as perfectly portrayed in Silhouettes. Here slight Gentle Giant complexities within a jazzy rock structure, alternate beautifully with a lighter side of Rush and some delicious guitars. Changes in tempo and playful bass-lines add a further flow to the music.
The jazz/rock fusion elements in Desert Sand feel comfortable and familiar (Steve Morse / Dixie Dregs), while Just Walk takes a direct, wondrous stroll alongside Wishbone Ash's F.U.B.B., beckoning to be played again immediately after. The eastern country-inspired The Crowning harbours divine, gentle touches on violin amongst a folk setting, as opposed to the Spanish flamenco-styled A Way Out Of The Maze, which sounds more like background samba/salsa entertainment, with a daring Spirit/Led Zeppelin-esque opening.
To Everlast, reminiscent of the solo-outings by Neal Schon (Journey), surprises in being a nifty little rocker, accentuated by keys and some further Steve Howe/Yes moments, while Bonfires Across The Lake slowly builds up from acoustic to electric, where Delgift creates an exemplary countryside feel through the use of synths and soft percussion. This same enchanting atmosphere is to be felt in the closing track Aimless, featuring some subdued vocals that somehow feel out of place on this ear-friendly instrumental album.
In contrast it's the vocals that give the Our Spirit suite authenticity. This epic track, divided into two parts, of which the second part features three movements, is easily the best I've heard so far by Delgift. Not because of it's length, which is appealing as well, but he has succeeded, through the implementation of several familiar influences like Rush and Yes, to construct a unique composition that's now completely identifiable as his own. This is not yet apparent in Part 1 Is This The End which starts off sounding like a direct continuation/precursor to Light and sparks images of a rockier Randy California (Euro American period). It flows gently, through catchy melodies surrounded by refined organ and a solid rhythm section with the playful character of the instruments elevating the song.
Graciously gliding into the first section of part two (Still Here) Delgift then takes a step back into laid back, poppy atmospheres that change slowly into the magnificent, slightly psychedelic The Underworld, filled with strong melodic guitars. At this point Delgift manages to add some nice unsuspected touches on the vocal parts, which together with the addictive solos and darker atmosphere, give way to a unique Delgift-identity. In the last section, Yes and Anima Mundi rise with heavenly swirling keys and ambient strophes, before slowly converging into a delicate, soaring guitar solo, gliding ultimately into the comfortable closing Our Heaven. From start to finish this is a strong epic track, and one can only hope this is the route Delgift will take with his music.
Although production has been scaled up a notch on both releases, there's still some room left to grow, and I expect we'll find out soon enough whether he's succeeded, for recordings have already begun for Light's second album. If he manages to keep up this level of compositional strength, as shown in Our Spirit, he should be able to reach a wider audience.
Frédéric L'Épée - Mornings
Frédéric L'Épée - Campanologie
Having just released The Empty Room (review here), Frédéric L'Épée (Shylock, Yang) almost simultaneously released its experimental parallel album Campanologie, and even more recently Mornings. Contrary to the slightly more song-based nature of The Empty Room, both of these new albums focus on improvisations performed solely on guitar, with some small additional instruments such as loops and hand-tapping.
Out of these two, Campanologie turns out to be a curious, yet imaginative cinematic excursion based on experimentations involving L'Épée's own electric guitar quartet composition Etude Campanologique n°3. A trip through pure harmonics visiting harbours, creaking alleys and old scenic farmyards. Through inducted complexities we flow on a stream of gentle waves, passing abandoned railway stations, mysteriously depicted through noises and accurately unsettling sound-waves.
Music with minimalistic qualities, which in combination with the emulated church bell-like melodies, slowly but surely form a wondrously full artistic movie along the lines of the fantastical Hugo (more info on Wikipedia). The graphic cover by Florence Jamart emphasises this even further, and the intricate, diverse use of guitar is admirable. For optimum effect, and to fully grasp its context, one is advised to experience this with headphones.
The thematic properties and easier accessibility of Mornings does not require this necessity.
The concept of Mornings was for L'Épée to make music first thing in the morning, and see where his mindset and noodling improvisations would lead. Some of these pieces made it to other solo records or ended up being Yang pieces, while those here include a dozen Ambient/New Age/Zen free-wandering soundscapes that make up a soothing, cohesive album. Solely recorded on guitars and loops and without overdubs, L'Épée manages to build natural serene environments with a broad spectrum of picturesque sounds.
Imagine an empty porch, a gently streaming river-bed, a clear blue sky or a desolate, damp, misty morning in your mind, and any of these minimalistic suites successfully lets you glide into delicate quietness. Whether it's the comforting jazzy touches in Gris and Romanze Mit Fleck or the spacious character of Air Stripes, it's all tastefully shaped and minutely arranged. These are pieces of craftsmanship along the lines of Brian Eno, Steve Reich or even Philip Glass.
If there is ever such a thing as "regular" progressive rock, then this is still miles away, but if you choose to go the extra mile, it could prove to be a fulfilling stroll.
Tool - Fear Inoculum
Digital version: Fear Inoculum (10:21), Pneuma (11:53), Litanie contre la peur (2:14), Invincible (12:44), Legion Inoculant (3:09), Descending (13:38), Culling Voices (10:05), Chocolate Chip Trip (4:48), 7empest (15:44), Mockingbeat (2:05)
Andy Read's Review
Fear Inoculum is the fifth studio album by American rock band Tool. It is the band's first album in 13 years, due to a wealth of creative, personal, and legal issues which band members have had to circumvent since the release of 10,000 Days (review here). On its release, this album became their third album in a row to top the US album charts. It did the same in five other countries in its opening week. It is safe to say, that commercially it has already been a success.
Artistically, I think is is fair to say that the initial critical majority also gave a favourable verdict.
However, the album consists of six lengthy and complex compositions, each consisting of multiple movements and a run time that would leave little space on a CD (more on that later). It is not an album where an instant verdict should hold much weight. It is an album that requires multiple full listens over a period of time. Thus this review aims to offer an insight from someone having spent some time with Fear Inoculum. I should also mention, that whilst liking lots of bands that apparently "sound like" Tool, I have never been a big fan. The ingredients have all been there, but for some reason, despite repeated attempts over many years, other than a few selected tracks such as Sober, Tool's music has never really clicked.
The Tool line-up has remained the same for quarter of a century, with Danny Carey on drums, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and frontman Maynard James Keenan. Thus despite the 13 years in its creation, Fear Inoculum undoubtedly sounds like Tool. Yet it is also very different to previous albums.
The most noticeable difference is in Keenan's vocals; his lips expressing tones more closely resembling the more soothing template to be found on his side-project A Perfect Circle, than the coarse and angry rasp of earlier Tool albums.
The concept of seven is a recurring theme of the album both musically and conceptually. Chancellor and Jones wrote guitar riffs in unusual time signatures related to the number seven, while Keenan introduced ideas related to seven as well.
Lyrically the album also explores the concept of growing older and wiser. In interviews, Keenan has explained that the album covers the idea of "embracing where we are right now, acknowledging where we've come from and some of the things we've gone through."
The reviews that I read when this was first released have variously described this album as progressive rock and/or progressive metal and/or alternative metal. It is all of these, and the extended instrumental sections and odd time signatures would also lead to fair comparisons with a number of post-rock and instrumental prog bands.
Instrumentally, anyone who appreciates playing music will appreciate the ever-changing odd time signatures, poly-rhythms, and overall musical complexity on this album. The soundscapes and grooves have been truly stretched out to the max'.
And perhaps it is this mix of easier-on-the-ear vocals and extended instrumental grooves that has made this an album, that whilst far from fixed to my playlist, has certainly been invited back for repeat listens. It is an album that I like to play as one whole piece; one long musical ride where there are constant highs amidst connecting passages.
Each of the six main tracks have sections that I really love. Most also have a bit too much padding. The tribal drums and the build-ups of intensity that characterise the opening pair are fully engaging. There is a hypnotic element to the groove and mood that draws me in every time. Neither have enough ideas to warrant their extended length. They don't really evolve far enough from the basic idea to keep my attention from wandering.
With its superb guitar detailing, varying textures and tones, Invincible would be my favourite ever Tool track, if it stopped at seven minutes. The over-long, psychotically-psychedelic guitar then vastly overstays its welcome. The long intro and the overlong outro, similarly effect Descending.
The more sinister Culling Voices and 7empest are my two favourites: each has just enough variation to warrant the playing time.
A final word on the marketing / packaging of this release. It is currently available in two formats; each offering different track listings.
The digital version is available from all the usual platforms. It has the six main compositions plus four shorter interlude tracks. These four extra tracks apparently stem from a scrapped plan to have the album as one long song. They are slightly avant-garde, weird compositions that bare no resemblance to the musicality of the main tracks. They jar and interrupt my listening. I have deleted them.
Keeping with Tool's liking of exuberant packaging, there is also a "deluxe CD edition" of the album, which includes a full 4-inch HD screen (featuring original video material), a 2-watt speaker (featuring a download code for an additional song called Recusant Ad Infinitum) and a 36-page insert book. This contains only the main six tracks plus one of the interlude tracks. I can only surmise that as Chocolate Chip Trip has no closer resemblance to the six main songs than any of the three other interludes, it has merely been included because a) there is only room for one of them on the CD and b) it keeps up the theme of seven. That aside, the current retail price for this version begins at 80 euros - compared to 12 euros for the download. When exuberant becomes exorbitant.
Having gone to all these lengths to create a "deluxe" edition, the logic of not releasing this as either a single or double CD, and not even a whiff of a double vinyl version, is beyond me.
Calum Gibson's Review
Tool is a band that need very little introduction in the world of prog and alternative metal. Having been around since the late 80s, they have become hugely popular on the backs of just four releases, the most recent being 2006's 10,000 Days. Since then, rumours have been everywhere regarding album number five. Finally, 13 years and a whole lot of hype and jokes about the previous album title being how long we'll need to wait, it is finally here and progmetalheads of the world have rejoiced. It was Tool! It was a new album! It was the music news of the century!
It was a let down.
Don't get me wrong, I like the album. I'm a huge fan of the band and I really wanted to love this album. But it sounds like it was recorded during the 10,000 Days sessions, and not over the span of 13 years. It sounds like a collection of good quality B-sides.
The technicality is there, the vocal performance, the intricate riffs and that gorgeous bass sound Justin Chancellor has, but the lead single Fear Inoculum just sounds like the B-side that would have come with Right In Two. It is good, but it isn't better or even as enjoyable.
I think the album has been severally damaged by a number of things. The length of time taken to build up the hype so high that it was always going to fail, Maynard being more concerned with side projects and wine-making, and various legal issues also marred the recording. The decision as well to release it only on digital or an £80 special edition CD (with regular physical editions coming later-on) was an absurdly stupid one, with the "deluxe edition" CD not even having the full tracks but having a download code.
The album is good as a whole, but I don't think there are any real standout moments except for Chocolate Chip Trip which is basically just Danny Carey showing off his insane drumming abilities. That track gets a 10/10 for me. 7empest is another good one. It brings a good bit of passion and heaviness to the fight, even featuring some Jambi and The Grudge-type riffing. A pity it is the album closer (unless you have the bonus tracks).
There are not any songs I feel myself wanting to sing along with, or being curious about what the lyrics mean. Maynard's vocals often sound hidden beneath the music, so it is hard to make out. The tracks all feel too long to me. I don't have an issue with ten-plus minute tracks when they are done right, but these just feel long. The album cover looks like a high school maths textbook as well.
It is a good album when listened to in full. But individually? Technically brilliant and intricate but relatively forgettable compared to their previous works. But my general feeling is just: “Meh”.