Reviews in this issue:
Erik Norlander - Into the Sunset
Into the Sunset is Erik Norlander's second solo album, on which he now uses a full band setup, with different guest vocalists. It features a heavy bombastic hybrid between hardrock and symphonic rock, ála Ayreon and Rocket Scientists. No need to say there is plenty of synthesizer soloing going on here!
The first few seconds of this album already indicate the kind of heavy bombast that awaits us through most of the rest:
impressive orchestral synthesizer and guitar work as heavy and intense as in the heavy Ayreon tracks. This Ayreon reference
is no big surprice since Arjen 'Mr. Ayreon' Lucassen himself takes the credit for the guitar parts. The melodic
and rhythmic structure are great in the prelude, and there are a couple of occasions where Erik really shows off his
playing skills here.
Into the Sunset, the title track, is sung by Edward Reekers (Kayak, Ayreon), whose voice seems to become better every single album he does. This is a real prog track with an interesting rhythm and a strong melody. Again some soloing work, this time fortunately more on a (Hammond?) organ and Lucassen's guitar, but also the really high pitched synth that pervades throughout the album is present here. Personally, I am not to fond of that piercing sound.
Rome is Burning is a powerful track, almost edging towards Iron Maiden but the voice of Deep Purple's
Glenn Hughes is so recognisable that it becomes almost a DP track! The break in the middle, where the song
becomes almost a ballad with the vocal interplay between Lana Lane and Hughes is gorgeous. All in all this song is something
that could have been on the previous Rocket Scientists album as well, in terms of heaviness.
The short interlude Fanfare for the Dragon Isle is a bit Vangelis-like. Next comes my favorite track, due to the incredible diversity: opening as a heavy guitar dominated track, it suddenly dies down and becomes a beautiful rock ballad, of which the first verse is sung by a Reekers and Norlander's wife, Lana Lane is responsible for the rest of the track, where she actually sings some kind of duet with herself, using a mildly distorted nasal voice and her own clear voice, nice! The excellent orchestration, the nice uptempo parts and the various instrumental breaks make this a really thumbs-up track. To bad that this piercing synth comes back again though. This modern track is followed by the lovely, almost classical Dreamcurrents, a track which Norlander composed years ago when he actually had to learn a Satie piece (as he told DPRP in an interview, which can be found here). Too bad that kind of inspiration never happens to me when I study the Gymnopedies ;-). There is some reference to Fly though in the very melancholic cello melody (yes, an actual cello, not a synth) so it can't all be old.
After this welcome quiet break it's back to business in Lines in the Sand. Cool Hammond work here. For the
rest it's not the strongest track on the album, though the vocal performance of Robert Soeterbroek is worth mentioning
(in a positive fashion, that is). The next track On the Wings of Ghosts is a long one, 10 minutes, which has the
advantage that the building up of climaxes etc. can take a bit longer, giving it less of a hectic feel than some of the
other tracks. The individual sections of the song are quite complex though. Reekers and Soeterbroek are both
responsibe for the vocals here. There are some beautiful chord sequences just before the second Reeker couplet and at the
last measures of the track, which for
me can already make a track worthwhile. Of course, there are a lot of keyboard solos, but hey this is a solo album by
a keyboard player! At least he integrates the solos nicely in the tracks and they serve the track instead of the track
serving the solos, as sometimes is the case with other artists.
Hymn is, well, a hymn, sung by Lana. Then we go to the end of the album, with the Reprise and the Postlude, where the themes of the intro come back, indeed adding the feel of completion of the album.
The European version of the album then contains a bonus track, the re-recording of Neurosaur, a track from his first solo album Threshold. Where in the original version this track was completely done on keyboards, now a large part is taken over by electric guitar, and bass guitar, giving the track much more of a bite.
I think that if you enjoyed the latest Rocket Scientists or the latest Ayreon work (the heavy one, The Universal Migrator) that you will like this album as well. It has a bit the same feel over it, given the fact that so many of the people that worked on that project are present here as well. Be prepared for your load of bombastic keyboard solos though! Through the sheer amount of intrumental tapistry and the omnipresent sharp synth, it can be a bit tiring to listen to, sometimes it is almost too much bombast. But good compositions, good skilful playing and excellent vocal performances make this an album that every heavy symfo-lover should have.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Sylvan - Encounters
Ten years ago German prog rock band Sylvan began their career under the name of 'Temporal Temptation' and several months later 'Chamäleon'. Through the years and some line-up changes the band's music developed into progressive rock. In 1997 they changed their name to Sylvan and began work on their debut album Deliverance which was eventually released in January 2000. The album was well received and was recently followed by their new CD Encounters, which was given the 'DPRP Duo Review' treatment below.
Sylvan consists of Marco Gluhmanm (vocals), Kay Alexander Sohl (guitars), Matthias Garder (drums) Volker Sohl (keyboards) and Sebastian Harnack (bass). The latter cannot yet be heard on the new album Encounters, on which bass is played by session musician Lars Koster.
This was a hard one to review because initially I couldn't really make up my mind if I liked
it or not. The sales sheet that came with the CD mentioned that this new album will become
a timeless masterpiece, comparable to other famous concept albums from bands like Marillion
and IQ. As you can imagine, this set very high expectations.
The first track No Way Out turned out to be a brilliant powerful piece which I immediately liked very much. It's got a funky feel and is 'in your face' at the same time and features a nice instrumental break.
The rest of the album could not live up to my expectations and certainly was not as good as the opening track - I thought at first. So I taped it and played it in the car for a week. I still couldn't get into it, so I played it some more times at home and suddenly ... I started enjoying bits and pieces very much ! It took me a while to find out why this album was so hard to get into and why I still don't like certain parts. I think the main reason is because it features too much variations in themes, rhythms and melodies. Now as a prog fan I like that kind of stuff, but one can also overdo it, and there definitely is an overkill of changes in this Sylvan album. Whereas most of No Way Out is based on variations of one theme, the second track Essence of Life features about 10 different sections in just 8 minutes. Just when you start getting into the new melody it switches into something else.
This continues in the epic Encounters which is made up of 10 seperate tracks, each of
which consists of many different sections themselves. That's just too many changes in a
continuous piece of music of 40 minutes for me (the short instrumental Tremendously
Different has 6 segments in just 2 minutes !).
Don't get me wrong, most of the sections in themselves are absolutely stunning, ranging from almost classical piano playing (Long Ago) or acoustic guitar (In Vain) to bombastic or very atmospheric parts to amazing time signatures and even some rap influences (All of It) and jazzy sax (In Vain). Some pieces would probably stand out very well on their own, like the accessible Your Source (of which the melody returns a couple of times during the full piece) and the great All of It.
Nevetheless the musicians are all brilliant, every single one of them, and the production is stunning as well. Especially singer Marco Gluhmann is worth mentioning since he's got one of the finest voices in prog I have heard in a long time and without a trace of the infamous German accent !
The 12 page booklet features all lyrics and some nice artwork.
Fine music by great musicians, but just too much forced in too little time and therefore not always as pleasant to listen to. Because of this the record for me falls just a tad short of the 'DPRP Recommendation'. I do however definitely advise anybody to check it out and decide for themselves if you like it or not. Also, since the album continues to grow on me very gradually, in a while I might feel comfortable enough with it to defintely recommend it or would even end up adoring it - only time will tell.
Just don't expect any easy listening. Ease out on the complexity next time boys !
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
I really enjoyed Sylvan's debut CD Deliverance from 1999 (a clearly recommended album in its own right), so I was indeed curious as to how the band had developed in the last year. Much can and will be said about this, but even in my harshest opinions, I cannot say that I am really disappointed in Sylvan's musical development on the whole.
The CD opens with No Way Out, a song which for the first two minutes plus sounds as if Red Hot Chili Peppers have taken over. However, Marco Glühmann's vocals come through really well in the chorus and the melody develops into a nice poppier kind of prog in the vein of IQ. At times, the track reminds me of Safe from Sylvan's debut album. An altogether nice track.
The second song, Essence Of Life, is a clear Sylvan track, reminding me of tracks
like Seeking Nights and Unconsciously as well as parts of the epic 16
minutes track A Fairytale Ending from the first album. There is in an extended
use of metal guitars in this track, continuing the experimental addition of that to
tracks like A Fairytale Ending. It still sounds awkward at times, but it does
work better here.
The lyrics are funny, telling the story of a tick called Pete. They remind me slightly of a Swedish joke song with a moral, about an ant that gets drunk (the moral in that case being that one should not drink, and if one is an ant definitely not wrestle with chewing gum). Glühmann's vocals soar in the chorus and it is pure Sylvan.
The third song on the album is the extremely long title song Encounters. It is a 40 minutes long song divided into ten sections (which are separate tracks on the CD). Already upon seeing the length of the track I grow slightly sceptic. On Deliverance, Sylvan showed that they could both handle the shorter pop friendly tracks like Golden Cage (4.50) and Safe (4.10) as well as the ones around ten minutes; Seeking Nights, Unconsciously and Deliverance. However, A Fairytale Ending (16.45), with all its charms, did prove to be slightly loose in its composition at times. Needless to say, the idea of a 40 minutes long song does not seem appealing in that case. And my fears are confirmed. The passages joining sections I to II, III to IV, VI to VII and IX to X (i.e. four out of nine) are quite questionable as conjoining sections in a song. Add to that the fact that there are musical breaks between sections IV and V, V and VI, and VIII and IX, and the entire idea of a song as an organic whole is shattered.
In fact, I would argue that Encounters is not a 40 minutes song, but an intended
40 minutes concept album. The questionable seams between section would definitely work
on a concept album as would the actual breaks between some tracks. The difference, of
course, being that a concept album contains songs, not merely sections. Unfortunately,
the band or the label have deemed 40 minutes to be too short and decided to add two more
songs, and in my opinion, that was a mistake. It is not a question of No Way Out
and Essence Of Life being good or not (because I think that they both are), they
simply do not belong on the Encounters album. It is as simple as that.
And Encounters would definitely have worked as a concept album in the vein of Marillion's Misplaced Childhood (though slightly harder at more than one occasion) as well as some IQ. OK, all the tracks are not brilliant, but there are definitely more worthwhile tracks than not. The use of reverb and delay on tracks like II. About To Leave and VII. Presentiments definitely brings Childhood's End? from Misplaced Childhood to mind, but Sylvan still manages to make something of their own of it.
I could do without V. Long Ago (which by the way is not connected to its surrounding tracks). On the other hand III. Your Source, VI. All Of It and VIII. Would You Feel Better are all great tracks clearly featuring the Sylvan sound; the latter bringing Seeking Nights and Unconsciously to mind. IX. In Vain has a good section, but definitely lacks in composition and certain elements, like a sudden jazzy interlude, feel awkward and misplaced. I am a huge fan of saxophone, and the use of it in III. Your Source is perfect, but here it just does not sound right.
The concluding track, X. Encounters, is short and effective, proving the band's greatness in shorter songs. It also leads us back to the opening sequence of the Encounters song/concept album in a very nice and subtle way.
If you liked Sylvan's first CD or enjoy bands like IQ and 80s Marillion (especially Misplaced Childhood and Clutching At Straws), you will most likely enjoy this CD. I still think it is a shame that they did not save No Way Out and Essence Of Life for their next album, but I will definitely monitor the band's future progress.
Conclusion: 8,5 out of 10.
Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile
RIGHT: The Way Out Is Through (4.17), Into The Void (4.49), Where Is Everybody? (5.40), The Mark Has Been Made (5.15), Please (3.30), Starfuckers, Inc. (5.00), Complication (2.30), I'm Looking Forward To Joining You, Finally (4.13), The Big Come Down (4.12), Underneath It All (2.45), Ripe (With Decay) (6.34)
'What is this!?', you may think right about now. 'Nine Inch Nails reviewed on the DPRP?'. Well,
let me assure you that you did read correctly; and no I have not lost my mind.
It is true that Nine Inch Nails is not a progressive rock band. Nor has it ever been their aim to be one as far as I know. They (he would probably be more accurate, since Trent Reznor is NIN in its studio version) are normally classified as Industrial, and their music should have its merits on that ground (which naturally is a completely different matter of taste).
Despite all this, I would argue that Reznor with The Fragile has managed to create a symphonic and progressive rock album. It is a heavy dark symphony of electronic sounds and instruments and lyrically a journey through misery; the classical theme of love turned sour and the descent that follows. The album reminds me of a lot of different prog rock, the first and foremost that comes to mind is King Crimson. The meticulous way in which the enormous soundscapes are structured is extraordinary and definitely deserves to be compared to bands such as Crimson and also to a certain extent Pink Floyd, I think (even though the soundscapes as such do not really bring Floyd to mind).
The achievement is all the more impressive when one considers that it is basically the work of one man. The additions being Steve Albini on drums, and programming by: Keith Hillebrandt, Charlie Clouser, Paul Decarli, Stebe Duda, Clinton Bradley (and Trent Reznor of course).
The album contains two CDs: Left (CD1) and Right (CD2) which is also how they are situated in the digipack. It is a green, grey and red cover on a digipack that opens up in two directions (as many digipacks do) with one CD on each side and the lyrics sheet in the middle.
The first CD opens up with the track Somewhat Damaged and a repeated simple guitar
from the left which is used in a way that makes me think of King Crimson. The
instrumentation expands with rhythms, electronic sounds and vocals which gives the track
an accumulative effect that is also mirrored in a slowly increasing volume. It is a
tortured sound which expresses the sentiments of the lyrics perfectly. A relationship
has crashed and the descent into despair and loneliness has begun. It is all acted out
in a soundscape of nightmarish pains which sucks you in. Building up slowly until it
beats its pain into the listener and then flows into...
...The Day The World Went Away. This tracks has great guitars which remind me of The Gathering. Under these more 'noisy' guitars, a small almost acoustic guitar lies, and then a slow section begins. The lyrics are brilliant and the soft guitars go very fragile before the return of the Gathering sound and non-lyrical vocals. A great build up of sounds that embraces the listener and then slows down into the next track.
The Frail is a short instrumental piece. It is piano based and very gentle, indeed 'frail', and works as a perfect aftermath to The Day... as well as a very nice preparation for what follows.
The Wretched is probably my favourite track on The Fragile. It begins with dark rhythms and a very dark piano. There are computer 'noises' floating around in the soundscape, carefully orchestrated. The lyrics are most expressive and the music and vocals (slightly distorted at times to express the pain in the lyrics) are in perfect harmony (though the state of mind is utter disharmony). Rock guitars charge the bridge to the chorus and the music starts ringing its discord in sync with Reznor's "This is what it feels like." At the end the vocals are so heavily distorted that they almost sound like an electric guitar and after some rhythmical and more acoustic guitar, electric guitars take over this heart tearing noise. The piano returns, dark and beautiful, an acoustic guitar or possibly a violin is being picked and the soundscape flows on into the next track.
We're In This Together begins with scratching noises like those one can hear while playing a vinyl record. Computer based sounds follow and then drums and guitars (distorted and howling). There are strings or a keyboard in the soundscape. The vocals (or layers of them) are soft and almost spoken. The chorus tears it all apart: grinding distorted guitars and screamed vocals. It all ends with a lingering computer echo and a piano... soft... melodic... which leads into...
...the soft rhythmical and bass filled beginning of The Fragile (one of the most beautiful tracks on the album). Once more, Reznor proves his skills with lyrics. The piece on the whole is very orchestral as much of the music on the CD. The way computer sounds and noises are used to compose a soundscape which is symphonic and absolutely outstanding. There is a raw guitar solo building up into a crescendo and ending in a heart tearing cacophonic version of the chorus. "I won't let you fall apart," Reznor desperately shouts, but it is obvious that the "I" has already fallen apart.
The seventh track on the first CD, Just Like You Imagined, is an extraordinary instrumental piece. It has a big drum sound and trumpet-like keyboards that could almost at times fit on an Ayreon album. There are some 'noises' and also a jazzy piano interlude which makes me feel as if Robert Fripp and Crimson have joined Arjen Lucassen, however. It is like a moving 3D soundscape, just close your eyes and float into the darkness.
Even Deeper starts with rhythms and sounds of a submarine moving through water. Soft cymbals are touched gently. The guitars are rather raw and the vocals are building up in waves. There is a nice deep bass sound and also some strings moving in the background. At the end there are more strings and slow meditative guitar floating around. Whispered vocals round up the song and Reznor leads us into the next track.
Pilgrimage is the third instrumental song on the album and like the two previous ones it is an excellent example of Reznor's control of the sound in an orchestral and symphonic fashion. At times this track very much reminds me of Aragon's Untying The Knot Part 3 from Mouse. Pilgrimage is bombastic, yet raw; polished into pain. There are rhythms of a march (excellent drumming) and sounds of a jeering crowd.
No, You Don't has rock drums opening and they are followed with some rocky metal guitars. Some techno beats are thrown into the fray but in a lot of aspects (and in context) it reminds me more of Fish's latest CDs and other prog rock people who have recently experienced with adding some of the darker spices of the techno community into prog music. Maybe it reminds me of that because of the weird guitar layers that play on top of it. The ending is a massive attack of amplified distortion.
La Mer is yet another expanding track starting with one piano and then another one joining in. A very slow and gentle beginning. A female voice starts reading in French. This is a translation of the lyrics in the sleeve (though I fail to understand why they are written in English there). Drums come in and once more the soundscape starts expanding. It all erupts and then falls back on the first piano. It is soft and worthy to be compared to King Crimson in its ingenuity and instrumental playfulness (dark though it may be).
The Great Below ends the first CD. It is very slow and slightly oriental. It is arranged like a smaller orchestra and Reznor's vocals start out very soft, building up to a gentle climax. The climax leaves a guitar and a new build up starts. There is a sense of dying in the song and it is a perfect ending of Left. The lyrics are beautiful and equally beautifully voiced.
Right (CD 2) begins with The Way Out Is Through. Train-like sounds and keyboards open up and drums and whispered vocals are added. A wall of sound is built up, slowly expanding into a burst of rock energy. Screaming vocals and an ensemble of noises attack, only to slow down into piano music. Parts remind me of how Pink Floyd worked at The Wall while the ending feels rather Crimson-esque. The lyrics deal with a turning point. If The Great Below left us at the brink of death, this CD opens with (and thematises) how one gets back on one's feet again. One is not always successful in that though, and the listener should not make the mistake to believe that the second part of The Fragile is less despairing than the first.
Into The Void has a very Crimson-esque beginning. It opens with percussion and strings. Later, guitar and electronic beats are added, creating a sound somewhat in line with a lot of 80s pop music. There is a very nice keyboard part in this track as well as a striking a cappella ending.
Where Is Everybody? reminds me a bit of Beck's Loser when it starts. There is a certain weird acoustic guitar sound and drum rhythm that accomplish that. Once more Reznor proves that he can build up a soundscape in an expanding manner. The vocals are off and on distorted. The fact that there are also layers of vocals in the multi-layered soundscape creates a very spacious feeling.
The Mark Has Been Made is the first instrumental track on Right. Guitars playing in an oriental fashion open this slow, gloomy, dark piece. There are some strings or keyboard that remind me a lot of IQ's Subterranea. Then Crimson-like guitars enter first in the right ear and then both. The drums start pounding the volume up. It is contrasted by the return of the IQ sequence, but this time it turns into distorted guitars and some really nice bass lines back it up. It ends with Reznor saying, "I'm getting closer all the time," in a very distorted voice.
Please works with a dark bass line, drums and an assortment of sounds and guitars backing it up. The chorus is very distorted both instrumentally and vocally, which is contrasted well with softer but darker verses. The soundscape is moving around the listener, creating a definite feeling of 3D. Dark guitars end the song.
Starfuckers, Inc. is quite possibly the least progressive track on the album. The verses remind me of Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up and the more rock sounding chorus brings NIN's contribution to The Crow soundtrack, Dead Souls, to mind. It is definitely the most NIN sounding track (compared to earlier works), but I must still admit - it is one of my favourite tracks on the album. The lyrics are excellent.
The second instrumental track, Complication, is built up around floating guitars, electronic sounds on top of them and beats. Some nice bass lines are there and once more volume increases together with the expansion of the soundscape. Then it all slows down.
I'm Looking Forward To Joining You, Finally is a very rhythm based track. Bass and drums rule the dark soundscape. Keyboard, electronic strings and whispering, soft vocals are layered on top of that. At one point a jazzy piano plays a few odd tones and then disappears.
The Big Come Down is another rhythm based piece, working with guitar and keyboard apart from machine-like rhythms. The vocals are at times very soft and high pitched (backed up by a soft keyboard) in a manner I normally would not attribute to Reznor as even possible. It is a nice contribution to the music though and a pleasant surprise. A friend of mine claims that the track sounds like Peter Gabriel's Shock The Monkey. Personally, I do not know since I am not very familiar with Gabriel's solo stuff, but I will take his word for it.
Underneath It All starts off with rhythms and noise. These are layered with soft vocals as a contrast. More sounds and more layers of vocals expand the texture of the song. At the end it turns into an a cappella choir-like repetition of the line "All I do I can still feel you," but the vocals are distorted. At first I believed there was a glitch in my headphones until another layer of vocals reveals Reznor intended distortion. These words are the last on the album, imprinting the despair of not being able to let go, no matter how much one tries. It is dark and beautiful, and it leaves us...
...Ripe (With Decay). This is the last track of this beautifully conducted
symphony of dark despair. A 6.34 minutes long instrumental track which once more in
many respects brings King Crimson to mind. Soft, dark guitars and background sounds
construct a desolate soundscape which expands with a piano and an orchestra of sounds
is slowly starting up. At some point during the build up, classic LP static is added
to the fray. A jazzy piano enters, creating a chaotic crescendo which then abruptly ends.
Then the guitars from the beginning of the track start again. Flies can be heard and a
piano and strings come in.
After that the music slows down once more and starts up for the third time. This time with bass and drums in a slow embracing darkness. A whining guitar comes in on top of it, and then a more acoustic sounding guitar is added. Then the instruments start to drop away. At first leaving the two guitars only, and then only the whining of the first guitar, which then abruptly stops.
And it is all over.
So... To whom do I direct this review and recommendation? I would say to anyone not afraid of the symphonic play between assonance and harmony; anyone who likes dark and beautiful music and atmospheres; anyone who likes intelligently constructed music; and maybe here to people into 70s (at least mostly 70s, I would say) King Crimson. Listening to this album a lot of late, I regret not bringing my copy of Larks' Tongues In Aspic with me (as I am currently in 'exile'). This is good progressive rock music for the late 90s (and the new millennium) and anyone with an open mind should give it at least one try before dismissing it.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Breaking Silence - Impact
Breaking Silence is a five piece band from Greece consisting of George Baharidis (vocals), Peter Christodoulidis (bass), Tolis Vasiliadis (drums), Tassos Vogiatzis (rhythm guitars) and Michael Georgiadis (lead guitars). The band play progressive metal, mostly in the vein of Queensrÿche. Impact is their debut album sporting a very nice cover and some pretty good tunes.
Silence? is a short introductory symphonic piece which slightly reminds me
of Saga's Generation 13. It is a nice opener of the CD which breaks
...One More Try, a track which immediately places the band in the Queensrÿche school. Especially Baharidis's vocals which remind me of Geoff Tate's. There are also some influences from Dream Theater à la Awake.
No One Cares could musically have been taken off Operation: Mindcrime
by Queensrÿche. It is a good track even though the use of fade out makes it lose
some points, in my opinion.
The fourth track, More Than You, is slightly too focused on speed for my taste. There are some obvious Iron Maiden influences and now and again Bahardis's singing in this song reminds me of Stefan Zell in Wolverine. Not one of the better tracks on the album though.
The somewhat heavy ballad-like My Way takes the band back into Queensrÿche mode. A really good track that shows that slow can still be heavy, and that Breaking Silence can really handle it. Possibly the best track of the CD.
Those Were The Days combines Operation: Mindcrime with a whiff of
Dream Theater and the result is rather nice. Unfortunately, the band once again
have opted for a fade out which disturbs a very good track.
Haul Down Colour is not a favourite of mine. It feels like the rhythm section is slowly hammering away at my head and the vocals are rather unimpressive on this track. Quite frankly, I find the track boring.
No Return could musically have been taken off Dream Theater's Awake; though without the keyboards and with Geoff Tate doing the vocals. An OK track.
Sunless June has rather dramatic vocals and a very melodic opening. The first
one and a half minute is pretty soft and the track then builds up in a way that once
more reminds me of Maiden. After 2.50 minutes the track starts sounding like Dream
Theater and the vocals are more James LaBrie-like. There definitely seem to
be some keyboards used in this song (even though no keyboard player is credited).
By 5.00, the vocals are once more back into Tate mode and the track ends with a very
soft and melodic section leading into...
Silence!, a symphonic instrumental piece which answers to the instrumental intro of the album. It is both soft, gentle and bombastic. Definitely nice to listen to.
All in all, a fairly nice album. I would primarily recommend it to Queensrÿche fans. It would probably appeal to those fans who did not like Q2K (which I personally did) since it sounds more like old Queensrÿche than Queensrÿche do now.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Monica Guareschi Group - Two Kingdoms
Monica Guareschi Group started out as an Italian cover band in 1993. Their first release in 1995 contained only covers, by artists such as Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. By their second release, Time And Space (1997), the band had managed to write seven tracks on their own and only included three covers: Pinball Wizard (The Who), Kashmir (Led Zeppelin) and For What It's Worth (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). With Two Kingdoms, the band show that they are capable to stand on their own legs - no covers included. However, the influences from the bands whose music they have played can still be heard.
The band currently consists of Monica Guareschi (lead & backing vocals), Paolo Moretto (6 & 12 string electric guitars, 6 string acoustic, nylon guitar, keyboards & backing vocals), Claudio Barro (electric guitars, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitars, nylon guitar & backing vocals), Gian Marco Orsini (bass guitar, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitars) and Gianni Moretto (drums & percussion).
The cover of Two Kingdoms must be one of the uglier covers on an album. A very simplistic cartoon-like image in dreary colours framed in ugly pink. A big turn off, which is a pity, since the album is pretty nice, and well deserves to be heard.
The album begins with the less-than-a-minute long title track, Two Kingdoms, which functions as a short intro to the story of the album. Yes, Monica Guareschi Group has entered the crowd of musicians creating concept albums. Generally, I am a huge fan of the idea of concept albums, though it should be stated for the record that there are a lot of rather poor concepts out there. As concepts go, I fear that this CD is not really that great. The story is rather cheesy (I will not even go into details), but if one tries not to focus too much on that, the music goes down well.
Things Are Going Wrong is the real opener of the CD, placing the band in the rockier vein of Queen and Led Zeppelin. There is a clear flavour of the 70s here, but it definitely works. Guareschi has a more than OK rock voice which is enjoyable (even though an Italian accent disturbs the vocals).
Invitation continues in the vein of Led Zeppelin, and I cannot help thinking about Five Fifteen as well. It is probably because of the clear flirtation with the former that the latter seems to share with Monica Guareschi Group. Guareschi's voice is once more proving to work very well. There's a riff that reminds me of Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. This is 70s hard rock, and it is really good.
The third track, Move Your Body, is once more in the vein of Queen. It is a
rock song, but with slow verses that build up towards the chorus.
Punky Guy sounds a bit oriental. There is solo that slightly reminds me of the oriental flavoured one in Don't Fear The Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult.
The Minstrel is the first slow track. It is very soft and gentle. Very nice acoustic guitars sweep over the listener and the track is really good. The real downside is that the Italian accent gets all the more obvious when the vocals are in their softer non-rock mode. Still, it is a very nice track.
The seventh track, The West King, enters a new element to the music. Keyboard fanfares create a bombastic feeling. It makes me think a little of Saga, but even more of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. When the music breaks into a heavy rock mode, I find myself getting back to the Saga feeling. The way the gentle melodies can erupt on Generation 13. There is also a sense of Iron Maiden (though with a 70s sound) in the rock parts. There is a nice keyboard solo by the end of the track.
The Golden Cage bears a flavour of Grieg. The opening is slow and heavy
rock. Then a melodic keyboard soars above the rest of the music. The chorus reminds
me of some 80s pop song that I cannot quite place. It has a nice build up.
Looking For The Princess returns to the oriental flavour. It is 70s hard rock with electric organ and guitar solos sporting the typical sound of that era. The song has its OK moments, but it is definitely not one of the better tracks.
Beautiful Daughter starts off slow and once more the Italian accent gets too obvious. That's a shame, since the melody and music are much stronger here. A track in the vein of bands like Queen, Genesis and Yes.
The White Door has a slight flavour of The Beatles, Yes and Queen with clear harmonies mixed with slow rock. It once more reminds me of Five Fifteen.
Magic Charm has a Queen-start and then moves into a Zeppelin-like riff
(it reminds me of Kashmir). The song could have been a Five Fifteen track.
Unreal World is the thirteenth track on the CD. The start reminds me a lot of the 80s pop sounding opening track of Cromwell's Burning Banners. Then the song moves into heavy rock mode and harmonies.
The Duel starts off slowly and then kicks into a faster mode. It is a slow rhythmical piece and very melodic with atmospheric keyboards soaring on top of the guitars. A very good track on the album, ending in fast guitar solo and a faster verse.
Never Stop is a nice up tempo song. Guitars using delay remind me of Marillion's Childhood's End?. The "lala lala la" chorus reminds me of Five Fifteen. There is a very nice floating guitar solo by the end of the track.
If You Really Want Something ends this concept album. The intro is slightly darker than the earlier tracks. Acoustic guitars build up the music and the track feels a bit symphonic. The vocals are faded out and then the keyboards, leaving a hollow wind to close the CD.
All in all, a nice CD. Fans of 70s rock and symphonic rock would probably be able to appreciate this album. Just try not to focus on the cover, the concept or the accent and you should be OK.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.