Reviews in this issue:
- Tiles - Presents of Mind
- Nathan Mahl- The Clever Use of Shadows
- Autumn - Oceanworld
- Grobschnitt - Solar Music - Live
- Graphic Nature - Graphic Nature
- The Night Watch - Twilight
- Colin Bass - An Outcast Of The Islands
- Rick Wakeman - Return To The Centre Of The Earth
- Various Artist - Progressive DisDURPance Volume 2
Tiles - Presents of Mind
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not very much into progressive metal. I like bands like Iron Maiden (prior to Fear of the Dark),
Megadeth, Metallica and such. It goes without saying that I also like progressive rock a lot, but the combination of the two genres just doesn't appeal to me for some reason.
There are exceptions though. For instance, I absolutely adore Queensryche (not counting the Hear in the Now Frontier album) and think their Promised Land is one of the best albums of the nineties. Every now and then another band comes by which combines metal and prog and create their own particular blend which does match my personal tastes. Last year a band called All Too Human impressed me a lot and this year it's Tiles which proves to me that the two musical styles do go together.
Presents of Mind is the third CD of this Detroit foursome. The band was formed in 1993. Their first album, Tiles, was released in the summer of 1994 and the second one, Fencing the Clear, followed in early 1997. Both CDs were received very well by specialist press magazines.
The opening track, Static ended up being one of my favourites of the album. It starts with a greasy kind of hard rock which Metalica have been persuing on their latest albums, but slightly more funky in the bass department. Good melodies and nice riffs !
The vocals on Modification remind me of Green Day a bit. It's another good track with multi-vocal chorusses.
The short acoustic guitar thrumming instrumental Crossing Swords serves as an introduction to Facing Failure which suddenly kicks in. This track features some excellent guitar playing and a quiet intermezzo.
Learning Curve is a nice ballad which gets heavier as the song proceeds.
Ballad of the Sacred Crows is another instrumental, but a long one this time. Besides the intricate guitar sequences there's also banjo on this track, as well as some percussion instruments. Halfway through the song the whole melody and arrangement changes, so it's actually two shorter instrumentals combined into one song.
After another very short instrumental The Sandtrap Jig (which is basically a short acoustic guitar solo), the next track Taking Control offers us another combination of rock and banjo. Besides the use of this instrument the track is one of the more straightforward pieces on the album.
Safe Procedures is a powerful track which also offers some room for improvisations by the various instruments in the second half of the song.
The album closes with the long and beautiful Reasonable Doubt, which starts as a semi-ballad and builds around the same melodic theme for more than 11 minutes. Although this might seem boring the track never fails to lose your attention and the emotional rendition just grabs you by the throat. The track features a wide range of instruments like Spanish guitar and violin (played by Discipline's Matthew Parmenter).
Actually, the music of Tiles sometimes isn't that far removed from what Queesnryche tried on Hear in the Now Frontier. However, where
Queesnryche failed pathetically (in my opinion), Tiles is right on target.
Tiles have a great rhythm section with powerful drumming and percussion, marvellous bass playing with some funky & groovy influences, good vocals and marvellous guitar playing. There's not a lot of obvious keyboards on this CD though.
The album was mixed by Terry Brown (Rush, Fates Warning, IQ) and the artwork, done by Hugh Syme (Aerosmith, Rush, Queensryche, Arena, Megadeth), is very nice as well.
What are you waiting for ? Go out there and get it !
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Nathan Mahl - The Clever Use of Shadows
Nathan Mahl was originally formed in end 1980. Their first album, Parallel Eccentricities, was release in 1982. In 1984 the group was dibanded for creative reasons. In 1989 the group reformed with two keyboard players and no guitarist. After several personnel changes in the nineties the band returned to it's prog roots with The Clever Use of Shadows. The current line-up is: Guy LeBlanc (keyboard, percussion and vocals), José Bergeron (guitars, effects and French vocals), Alain Bergeron (drums and percussion) and Claude Prince (4 & 5 string basses).
On their web site the band wrote: "'The Clever Use of Shadows' is the CD we've wanted to make for years. It is the culmination of all our
creative skills, and represents, musically, everything we like to explore with a vengeance.
The CD is about lies, appearances, deception and perception. This encompasses a lot from emotion and communication to media and society. It is also an appeal to artists of all disciplines to stop granting the music industry the power it has robbed us of; to express free ideas -- by establishing an empire of greed and corruption, and fed mainly by the talents of those who either feel it must be so, or lack a better answer than to consider it "normal".
Wow ... deep stuff !
The opening track starts with war sounds and march drums. A long an delicious instrumental evolves with the emphasis on keyboards (among which quite a lot of Hammond) and guitar.
Clever Use of Shadows starts with an almost medieval feel but soon the guitar kicks in, followed by good vocals which remind me a bit of Eric Woolfson (The Alan Parsons Project). This track and the opener of the CD are among the highlights of the album.
Orgasmik Outburst II, a track which was written 20 years ago, is a short and very uptempo instrumental with great drumming and again the
emphasis on guitar solos.
The acoustic guitar which opens Machiavelique brings a medieval atmosphere again, only to be replaced by a heavy but slightly chaotic instrumental track dominated by lots of keyboard violence. This one is a bit to 'jumpy' and unstructured to be my cup of tea. Parts of the song border on the edge of heavy metal.
Beyond the Rim of Despair and Something like That
are more accessibles piece which also feature tenor sax (in Beyond ..) and some nice bass slapping.
Unfortunately, the album isn't all as good as these tracks. The Rubber Cage features uninteresting melodies, questionable vocals and strange lyrics about the artist/music industry relation (... never mind the melody just play the fucking song). The lyrics even include a bit which describes my own opinion about this song: It's a little bit pathetic, not at all my kind of thing.
The album closes with another instrumental, the very jazzy Call to Arms. This track features some excellent bass playing (lots of slappin' and pluckin') and good keyboards and drums as well. Unfortunately, the Hackett-ish sounding guitar seems to be doing a totally unrelated thing at times. At other times the band plays as a unity and the sound is much more pleasant. A song with excellent bits and some bits which just don't appeal to me personally, but interesting as a whole.
The feel of the - mostly instrumental - music is a combination of fusion and prog as you might also recognise in the music of for instance Light (especially the guitars). There are touches of Spock's Beard in there as well and people who like Capital Letters and the second half of IQ's About Lake Five on Seven Stories into Ninety Eight should check this out. Another band which comes to mind is Focus.
Although the CD booklet is only 4 pages long (not including the inlay behind the transparant tray) it does contain some nice liner notes about
the 'meaning' of the songs.
Although the music might be a bit too jazzy at times for my own tastes, this disc is definitely recommended ! Great rhythms, splendid arrangements, lots of tempo, instrument and melody changes, good keyboard and guitar solos, what more do you want ?!
For ordering details, check the Nathan Mahl website.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10.
Autumn - Oceanworld
You, as I, have probably never heard of Autumn before. However, some familiar names are part of this band, especially Nick Magnus as keyboard player for Steve Hackett.
Autumn were an English band that existed from about 1974 to 1978, and played instrumental progressive rock. Due to the infamous punk wave, the band were too late to raise any kind of interest from record companies. Besides the many live gigs, however, they recorded a couple of songs in 1977 and 1978. These were the only studio recordings the band ever made, and now they have been released for the first time.
The recordings have at last been released on a CD, titled Oceanworld. Of course, the tapes were enhanced for this popular medium, and the quality of the recording is perfect. All instruments are very clear. I find it sad to hear these are the only recordings the band has made.
Autumn have always been an instrumental band. I don't mind that at all, and in this case, I never miss any vocals for a second. The music is actually somewhere between Yes and Genesis, although very melodic and thus leaning more towards the latter. Very fine harmony play of guitar and keyboards. The bass playing, something Genesis were never very strong at, is in the vein of Squire, although not as bombastic. At times, it's like I am listening to a Steve Hackett record. Not for long, though, since Autumn's songs are more progressive "compositions" compared to Hackett's "songs".
Like where this musical genre partly originated from, these compositions are also slightly psychedelic; hypnotic soundscapes alternated with bombastic parts. There's more of a full group sound than a series of solos or jams.
Dated? Well, yes. Then again, I still listen to my Genesis records as well, so what the hell that you can hear it's from the Seventies? It's the music. You don't hear this kind of music any more, and that's why you can tell it's from the Seventies. Looking at the points I give to this record, you can conclude this is not necessarily a bad thing. I wish more bands would play like this.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Grobschnitt - Solar Music - Live
It has taken a very long time, but at last we have some more Grobschnitt on CD. While drummer Eroc would like to release all of the material (and is doing a wonderful job with the Grobschnitt Story CDs), guitarist Lupo is much more reserved, if not completely unhappy with his musical past. But, thanks to wonderful Repertoire Records and Eroc, besides the eponymous first album (with a bonus live track of not less than twenty-nine minutes), a second CD-issue of Rockpommel's Land (including a previously unreleased bonus track), the bi-lingual version of Jumbo, and Merry-Go-Round (two bonus tracks), there is Solar Music - Live. Recorded in 1978, this holds one of the many versions of Solar Music, and probably the best version, or at least the ultimate version of this magnum opus.
It was first released (as Sun Trip) on the debut album (seventeen minutes), and then on Ballermann in a version of thirty-three minutes. The song was used as a place for long solos and jams, and was rewritten several times as well. (Much later, after Eroc's leaving the band, it was re-written completely, and titled Sonnentanz.) It could never have been performed the same twice. The highlight was around 1978, when the song easily lasted for more than an hour. The live version just had to be recorded and released. All of the thirty-two gigs on the 1978 tour were recorded by the band, and the recording from Mülheim, April 17, 1978, was picked out for the release.
I can imagine some would say this is too much. Grobschnitt concerts not seldomly lasted for over three hours, and included little slapstick plays by the band and crew, which would be very hard to capture on disc. This recording show that great musical part of the band, although Solar Music must have contained a lot of visual effects as well. The sound tracks how a band creating history.
Solar Music has a lot of long solos by Lupo (guitar) and Mist (keyboards). Some parts are a bit long, but still ten times more exciting than boring Pink Floyd soundscapes. Something is going on here! Eroc's drumming is never predominating the sound (no long drum solos), but he is the axis for the music. After solos and breaks, the band returns to his guidance for getting them back to where they came from. Grobschnitt are bombastic (of course - we're talking Krautrock here!), hypnotic at times, melodic, delicate at times. Heavier, less electronic, and more diverse than Eloy, sometimes reminiscent of mighty Nektar.
The track list could have read: 1 Solar Music (53:58), 2 Symphony (12:43). And that's it. The original LP, in 1978 extremely
long with its 55 minutes, contained only Solar Music. For easier airplay possibilities and royalty calculations, the band divided the
recording into several parts with fantasy titles, which resulted in the track list as stated above this review, with The Missing 13 Minutes
being the encore, based on the riffs of Symphony, in which the band members are introduced, and the audience greeted.
This is such essential stuff! Grobschnitt are part of Krautrock's foundation, and this CD is one of the most important releases. Why not 10 points out of 10 then? Well, this album shows only one part (an important part, though) of Grobschnitt's history, their legacy. Albums like Jumbo, Rockpommel's Land and the debut album show more diversity, and will therefore be rated even higher than this one.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Graphic Nature - Graphic Nature
This is one of the CDs we received when DPRP was in need and in search of a new web space provider. Due to those circumstances and things getting lost during my changing of address a few times, reviewing was delayed for too long. Sorry! This, however, does not influence on the content of this review, and I will describe Graphic Nature's music as fair as possible, taking into account the necessary and unevitable subjectivity.
Graphic Nature play metal. Progressive metal, to be more specific. It was so much metal, however, that it took a while for me to hear the progressive part in it. Many distorted guitar and, especially, a vocalist with a voice not very diverse. This is just too much metal for me. A "progressive Metallica" might be an appropriate description, at times, although there is also something of the metal side of Deep Purple in there.
After a while, though, the underlying keyboard parts caught my interest, and the structures were not as plain metal as they first appeared.
Despite this observation and a moving guitar solo in As Above, So Below, the music did not appeal to me very much. "Why?", I asked myself. I like heavy rock and I like progressive rock, and it has those ingredients. So it's got nothing to do with that. Several listening sessions later, I had to conclude that how diverse some compositions were (although Blur On The Highway of eleven minutes is a bit tedious at its length), it all sounded too clever, too "made up", too "thought over". (They have that in common with many countrymen, by the way... Take a listen to almost any of the Magna Carta releases and you know what I mean.) There's a great lack of emotion.
The last track is supposed to be a ballad type of song with only keyboards and guitars accompanying the vocals (which shows a lighter timbre at last), and it could have offered some time to breathe somewhere in the middle of the CD, but it comes too late and it just doesn't do it for me. When you have Metallica, technical songwriting and dark atmosphere within your ranges of musical interest, take a listen.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
The Night Watch - Twilight
First let me tell you some keywords; if you are known with these keywords (or even adore some of these keywords) you will have to RUN to the local record store to buy (or more likely to order) this album. These are the keywords: Peter Gabriel, Genesis and King Crimson !
Twilight by Italian band The Night Watch was my revelation of the year 1998 ! Releasing one of the best albums of 1998 (although Twilight was officially released in 1997 but not available through import until 1998) and playing a very surprising but very good concert during the IO Progheaven Festival in Uden, Holland, November last year !
Of course I could start this review about how much Simone Rosetti's vocals sound like Peter Gabriel or about the fact that The Night Watch have a very theatrical stage show during their concerts like the old Genesis with masks and different clothes (Simone Rossetti starts the concerts dressed as .. A MICROPHONE !). But for one reason The Night Watch keeps your attention till the end of the album without copying their influences but with superb compositions and great musicianship !
My Ivory Soul (08'40) is the perfect opener of Twilight; this one is the prelude for almost 50 minutes of unheard music. Very aggressive, well-played compositions that reminds me of the early 80's Marillion period. Although an Italian band the English vocals and lyrics are very good. The Theme is a one and a half minute acoustic guitar piece in the style of Steve Howe which lead us to The Fisherman, an almost 9 minute song, that is one of the first songs The Night Watch composed for this album. In this song their Genesis influences are best heard with great guitar and keyboards compositions.
Tommorrow Happened is the longest track on this album (09'47) with relaxed piano parts mixed with very agressive guitar and keyboard parts. Simone's vocals are outstanding in this track ! The Black Cage (08'43) is one of my favourites on this album. Very sensetive, emotional vocals with great guitarpieces in the end. Not forgetting the rhythm section, Antonio Mauri on Bass and Diego Donadio on drums, who do a fabulous job during the whole album.
A Game With Shifting Mirrors is an 8 minute instrumental (!) and continues where King Crimson stops. The best track on the album ! Eight minutes of superb musicianship but very good played without losing the structure of the music. This must be heard by every progrock fan ! Flower Of Innocence (03'50) is the typical last track with relaxed vocals, guitars and keyboards.
The Night Watch are now known simply as The Watch (ammendment 12/05/2004)
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10.
Dirk van den Hout
Colin Bass - An Outcast Of The Islands
Colin Bass (you guess which instrument this man is playing !), the well-known ...player and singer for CAMEL, produced this album together with a German record label (Kartini Music). It was (mainly) recorded in Poland, together with musicians from Polish bands Quidam and Abraxas. Also the Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Kim Burton) took part in this project. But most of all there is the presence of Andy Latimer, Mr. Camel himself and Dave Stewart, drummer for Camel and Fish !
I will not review the songs seperately because there is a sort of concept which connects the 14 songs on this album. I was very pleased with the overall result of this album that consists of modern pop songs to very progressive rock songs. Especially Colin's very good vocals and the very talented young Polish musicians makes this a very good album.
Opening song Macassar leads us into very good, instrumental music (with an outstanding Andy Latimer), there is even one more awesome instrumental track on this album that's even better (The Straits Of Malacca). The other instrumental tracks are tracks on which the Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra appears: First Quartet, Second Quartet and Outcast. The other (almost) instrumental tracks are Aïssa (with great fretless bass by Colin Bass) and Trying To Get To You, and acoustic guitar with vocals piece.
Most of the tracks on this album are very well composed songs. Very good songs are As Far As I Can See, Goodbye To Albion, Burning Bridges and "the hit on this album" Denpassar Moon (Colin told during his concerts in Holland that this was written by Saba Habas Mustapha, a pseudonym Colin Bass used during the writing stage of this song. It was a number 1 in the charts in India for months !)
Don't expect too much Camel music on this album. Although there are certain moments on this album that you think you are listening to a Camel album, especially when Andy Latimer plays guitar in the instrumental parts. This album is more song orientated than most Camel albums. The story on this album fits very good with the music. This is also a very surprising album (the participation of the Polish musicians) and the music is very well composed. Colin Bass' solo album is one of the most surprising and remarkable albums that have been released the last few months. Great !
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Review by Dirk van den Hout
Rick Wakeman - Return To The Centre Of The Earth
Rick Wakeman's recently released Return to the Centre of the Earth is a beautiful balance between narration - as spoken by the pleasant voice of Patrick Stewart ("Star Trek") - and music. Others that lend their (singing) voices to this disc are Ozzy Osbourne, Bonnie Tyler, Justin
Hayward, Katrina Leskanich (of Katrina and the Waves), Trevor Rabin (late of Yes). The only name unfamiliar to me is Tony Mitchell (of the band Kiss
of the Gypsy).
Without revealing any of the story details, this album is a follow up to his earlier - much earlier, 25 years earlier -release Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a musical telling of the Jules Verne novel. In this, Return, he does just that - returns to the centre of the Earth.
Instrumentally, Wakeman is joined by Fraser Thorneycroft-Smith on guitar, Phil Williams on bass, Simon Hanson on drums, and both the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Snell and the English Chamber Choir conducted by Guy Protheroe.
Before I set off exploring this wonderful disk, I should admit something up front - though I am familiar with who Rick Wakeman is, his past
associations (Yes mainly), I haven't really heard much of his work - aside from that in Yes. If you aren't familiar with Wakeman, the brief bio of
highlights is: a prolific solo artist; a member of both Yes (off an on throughout their career) and the Strawbs (briefly).
I'd like to say if you are into harder edged prog, you might not get into this, but the truth is that if you can appreciate accomplished playing, then you will like this. Listening to Wakeman "tinkle the ivories" on a track such as The Dance of a Thousand Lights is magic. In fact, musically this is just wonderful and worth getting for that alone. The arrangments are rich, lush, dramatic, vivid - you can see the story unfold.
Also, and especially in the all too brief Floodflames, you can easily tell who such proggers as Marillion's Mark Kelly were influenced
Mitchell has a pleasant voice, but sings with a light touch and compared to the rough vocals of Osbourne and Tyler, seem underpowered. That said, I don't think Osbourne's vocal style quite fits here. There is the expectation of harder edge material, and even with the drama needed for Buried Alive, it would inappropriate.
Another picky thing: the lyrics, or at least most of the lyrics, to Never Is A Long Long Time seem lifted from a series of cliched
ideas. I do like Rabin's vocals here, and next to Leskanich, he fares best with the material. Ride of Your Life, Leskanich's turn in the
spotlighthas the same verve and energy as her work with Katrina and the Waves. Though it does run dangerously close to pop because of it.
The English Chamber Choir are, perhaps, the most suited to this production singing-wise - their voices are angelic with an undercurrent of darkness.
Hayward seems off his game here, a bit off key and flat at times. And yet, there is a melancoliness to his vocals that comes through, and his voice
seems well matched to the material.
Patrick Stewart is just perfect - his voice has the right tenor, the right timbre. I really could listen to him read the phone book - I'd be gripped by the drama he could instill in it.
I don't care what your particular brand of progressive is, you must go out and get this CD. Listening to it is an adventure that you find
you need to repeat to catch every nuance.
There are also some things I don't like on this CD: the production is much too clean and the musicians are sometimes far away in the mix. And there is Simon Hanson's drumming; why not a great drummer like Simon Philips ???
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Dirk van den Hout
Various Artists - Progressive DisDURPance Volume 2
After reviewing Progressive DisDURPance Volume 1 my main criticism was the fact that there was too less progressive music and too much heavy metal on the sampler. A few weeks back I found a package from Marcus Weis (maintainer DURP) in my mailbox with the request for a review for Progressive DisDURPance Volume 2 with enclosed a short note where he wrote "Hi Dirk, Volume 2 has a lot more progressive music. Hope you like it !". And yes .. I did !
The CD opens with Heroes by Dutch band Flamborough Head, a song from their current debut-CD Unpoken Whisper (available on Cyclops). Flamborough Head was voted as Best new band by the readers of Wonderous Stories, the progzine of the Classic Rock Society in England. This almost 8-minute instrumental track is a great track with music where Flamborough Head stands for: powerful and very progressive !
Trip by Austrian band Mayfair is a very strange song. Their music can be described as space rock, influenced by the psychedelic '70s, combined with modern touch 'n feel. It does not sound like prog rock, but it is the meaning of the word .. progressive ! Sometimes even The Prodigy comes in my mind ...
Next up is the demo track In My Sight / Take My Time by German band Dionysos. This band is influenced by bands like Dream Theater, Simple Minds, Living Colour and Marillion. Good song .. good voice .. good music !
From Where You Stand by American band Third Voice is a little disappointing. The vocals sound not so good and they miss a real drummer (a drumcomputer had to do the drumming). Later in the song there is a great guitar solo and that's it !
Perfect Illusion by Germany's Blank is a song between Dream Theater and melodic heavy rock. This song is very smooth, exciting, warm and sometimes damn' proggy heavy ! Drums and guitars tend to belong to the progmetal scene, vocals and keyboards tend to belong to the prog rock scene.
Blinded by Swedish band Twin Age is next up. Twin Age is not a secret for me because I have their CD Lialim High (1997). This band started as a Genesis cover band and you can hear it ! I especially like the very good vocals in this song. Good song !
Followed By A Memory by German band Moonlit is a very interesting mixture between gothic rock (Paradise Lost, Marilyn Manson) and progressive metal (Fates Warning). If you like these artists you will definately like this song.
Next up is Wanna Know by Estonian band WW. It is great to hear music from the former USSR but this song has quality ! WW play hard rock with progressive influences .. or call it powerful prog rock, influenced by bands like Asia, IQ and Rush. Great surprise !
The song by Swiss band Moondaze, called Life Will Live On, is a great song influenced by bands like Pendragon (because of the song-along verses) and Marillion (guitar pieces). This is a very good progressive song and part of a 16-minute song called Decision: suicide.
The song Under The Flood by Winterland is my least favourite song on this sampler. This song has not so much to do with progressive music besides some guitar breaks.
Highlight of this sampler is the song See You Thereby German band Esthetic Pale. I was allready convinced of their capabilities after hearing the first sampler. This live version of See You There show their live abilities. Very good progressive music in the vein of Marillion and IQ. I am looking forward to their second album (follow up to their Tales Of The Ancient Realms debut-CD).
Very good follow up to the first DURP sampler ! Thank you, Marcus Weis, for providing the review CD and keep up the good work ! For more info please contact: DURP, c/o Marcus Weis, Am Gangsteig 9, D-85551 Kirchheim-Heimstetten, Germany. Phone/fax: ++49/(0)8990480558. Mobile phone: ++49/(0)1776847133. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Dirk van den Hout