Reviews in this issue:
Pallas - Mythopoeia
Now here's something new... As far as I know, Pallas are the first band to release a CDR of MP3 files. Over four hours of archive material! On one CD! This is one of the most amazing things you can do for your fans, if you ask me.
There are a few reasons why I am not giving you a full tracklisting. I have a pre-release copy for this review, and the final tracklisting is still changing (ie. growing!). With so many hours of music, the tracklisting would take too much space. And what's more important, I will not tell you all there is, as to keep part of the surprise. And surprised you will be. Even as the big Pallas collector that I am, there is so much material on this CD that I have never heard of, and in some cases never knew about its existance.
The reason that this is an MP3 CD and not a collection of audio CDs, is that the band didn't think the quality is up to today's standards of crystal clear recordings. Most of the featured tracks exist only on regular audio cassettes. Newer tracks come from digital sources, though. Of course, the sound has been cleared, noise has been reduced, but it's still a side-project for the band. A big one, though... The band knows that people will, and even encourages them to make their own selections from the MP3 files and burn their own audio CDs.
Arrive Alive Era (1979 - 1981)
The tracks are taken from several eras in the band's history. The earliest is the time around the recording of their very first album, the live album Arrive Alive, which was recorded in April of 1981. Some of the tracks featured here are demos of Arrive Alive ("Birth Of..." version), Stranger On The Edge Of Time, The Hammer Falls, Arrive Alive, a 20-minute version of The Ripper.
Demos of some songs you know, but in versions you have never heard. It's great to hear, for example, an instrumental demo like the Birth Of Arrive Alive. The band were finding their own way, but even their way of finding that is interesting. Often rough, but also in enthusiastic naivity, beautiful things can be created. A mix of shorter songs like Arrive Alive and The Hammer Falls, to long explorations in The Ripper or weird experiments in Stranger On The Edge Of Time.
The Sentinel Era (1982 - 1984)
For many people this section alone is worth getting the CD. Here is the full Atlantis suite as was originally intended. Including the never released and only rarely played songs The Cell and Flashpoint 2 (previously only well-known among tape traders), but what about Scrolls, The Calm Before The Storm (only played live once, I believe), and A New Age Dawns (ditto)?! It also includes the 20-minute medley of March On Atlantis / Atlantis, as was played many times in 1983. This is the studio version, however.
This section shows the transition from the rougher and heavier Arrive Alive sound to the more symphonic unit that created the acclaimed The Sentinel album. It contains some older songs and you can hear where the band is going to.
The Missing Album (1984 - 1985)
After the completion of The Sentinel, tracks were written, but things didn't work out between singer Euan Lowson and the rest of the band, leading to their parting ways. Some of the tracks remained untouched by lack of input from Euan, and that's really a shame if you hear those incredible instrumental demos of 12-string (the missing link between The Sentinel and The Wedge styles), Logo (played live once, this track has the grandeur of Crown Of Thorns), and Lighthouse (a 9-minute track that contains parts from which The Executioner evolved). Classic Pallas!
Another era in the band's history that shows them moving on, musically. Of course, replacing the lead vocalist will have its impact on the band. I am very pleased to see the so-called Alan Reed Demos are included, two of which were released on a bonus 7" single with one edition of the Knightmoves EP.
The Wedge Era (1985 - 1986)
Many demos were written for the follow-up to The Sentinel. Songs were recorded also before producer Mick Glossop joined the team. There's an early version of Call To Arms, which later was recorded for inclusion on the Beat The Drum album, but also some unreleased songs like The Knightmoves On, Inside Outside In, and Sound And Vision.
Especially the older songs that didn't get on the album show the musical changes between The Sentinel and The Wedge. Slightly heavier again, but also a bit "condensed", like more is happening in each song.
Voices In The Dark Era (1986 - 1993)
Could be called The Missing Album 2. It contains songs written when Mike Stobbie was back in the band to replace Ronnie Brown. Due to Mike Stobbie's input as a songwriter, the music is tighter and in some cases a bit poppy. Songs from this era appeared on the Sketches tape in 1989, but also on the two SI Music compilation discs (so at last those songs are available again!), and on well-known items among tape traders: the Voices In The Dark and the 1988 Demo tapes. At last a release of Falling Apart At The Seams!
This period was not an easy one for the band. They felt uncomfortable with how things were going, and there is a long period of inactivity. It's like they had to find their ways again.
Beat The Drum Era (1996 - 1998)
Based on both previously and newly written songs, the band, now with Colin Fraser on drums replacing Pallas' long-time drummer Derek Forman, set out to explore new grounds. Or old grounds that haven't been touched for a long time. Mike Stobbie had not left the band, but it was Ronnie Brown who was simply joining the others. (Not surprising, since Ronnie lives in Scotland near the others, and Mike Stobbie lives in London.) It's like this was what the band needed. Mike Stobbie is a marvellous keyboard player, but Ronnie fits the unit that is Pallas better.
Included are some demos (there is a version of the title track recorded in 1996) of songs on the album, and also the two songs that were on the free Complimentary Tape (another version of the title track and Blood And Roses) are included.
The Cross And The Crucible Era (2000 - 2001)
And last but definitely not least, of course, the latest studio album. This era is covered with demos, some jams, and work-in-progress versions of songs on the album. In some cases, there are big differences between these versions and the ones that are on the album. For this album the band did not use any old songs, all songs were written from scratch, after the Beat The Drum album.
As mentioned before, you cannot regard this CD as a regular CD release. As a collector, I am used to the quality of old cassettes. Cleaned up and de-noised, however, this is an amazing piece of work! It shows the progress of a great band, exploring musical territories, and finding their own way in there. Very nice to see how they went a diversity of routes, being now at a place that is a mix of many of the previously explored places, with more experience. For every Pallas fan, collector or just liking the music, this is a must-have CD!
The CD will be finished within the next week or so, to be ready for sale during the forthcoming European minitour. See the band's official website for tour dates, more info on this CD, and how to order it in case you're not able to come to the gigs. The price is even slightly lower than for a regular CD, so you're getting an awful lot of music for your money! Now let's hope other bands take this example and please their fans in the same way! This is an amazing offer for all fans, a collector's dream come true...
Conclusion? Wouldn't be fair to other items in this issue rating this piece of archive treasury... A dream come true does not have a rating. "DPRP Recommended", take it from me.
Blazing Bronze - Dominion of the EAST
A joint reveiw of two albums from Japan, both released in 2001 and the work of Blazing Bronze. The first release is entitled Dominion of the EAST and the second the Death Collection, two sharply contrasting albums with a distinct and unique style. The first of the two instumental albums is a curious mix of Fushion, Symphonic, Gothic, Jazz Rock and Eastern Folklore. Several listenings were needed to adjust to the differing approach which separates this from any of the other releases I have reviewed this year.
Dominion of the EAST
Although the instrumentation featured on this album is not particularly unique the cultural differences present a sound that is challenging and at times refreshing. Think King Crimson (80's version) and this might guide you towards some of the rhythmic construction featured on this recording. The inclusion of organ, strings and at times inspired piano playing change the flavour yet again. As with the Death Collection there is a "dark atmosphere" to the album, the use of sound effects is more sparing and arrangement of the pieces on Dominion of the EAST features more of the band.
The use of gregorian chanting sounds coupled with the use of "reverberant space" was quite effective and this with the dynamic range within the recording, gave an orchestral/symphonic overview to the album. Fine musicianship is displayed from all and when it gelled it was great, however the timbres of the instruments were strange, mainly the lead guitar and snare drum, this with the numerous unusual sound collages made listening difficult. Worthy of note was the violin playing from Shouko Kobayashi on Time Scamper and Geotia and brought to mind early Jean Luc Ponty.
There were moments of brilliance on Dominion of the EAST and I particularly liked the groove arrangement in Eastern Air. Several listenings later, however, the music has not grown on me and I pondered the idea that maybe it was the cultural differences between east and west that made the music inaccessible. This may be partly true but as a musician it was possible to appreciate the many intracacies within the pieces, however there was no warmth within the material and therefore can only see a limited appeal to most western progressive fans.
There is no track listing in English, however, a brief explanation of the construction of the 34 tracks featured are as follows, all the odd numbered tracks are sound effects and the even numbers are music or musically based. Each pair of tracks (1 & 2, 3 & 4 etc) correspond to the 17 scenes that make up the Death Collection, which takes its inspiration from a poem by Miss Takehiko Vabitsu entitled "What flies in the Night".
The subject matter of the album is extremely dark and disturbing and is deeply rooted in the occult. It begins within the walls of a lunatic asylum and it's main characters are a middle-aged man and a young girl. The use of numerous sound effects combined with music and percussion then embark to tell the story. I had the advantage of a detailed, if somewhat unintelligable translation from Japanese into English, to guide me through the album.
There were a few musical highlights from the album, which according to Blazing Bronze draw influences from Gothic, Symphonic, Folk and Contemporary music. As mentioned above the musicianship of the band is superb but on the Death Collection, far too infrequent.
Obviously much thought has gone into the Death Collection by Hiroshi Aoki and AKKO, however, it was lost on me. The sound effects were wearing and the music never long enough to develop any great interest.
Dominion of the EAST: 6 out of 10
Death Collection: 4 out of 10
Subterra - Sombras De Invierno
The South and Middle American continent is slowly becoming a more prominent factor on the progressive rock front. With Cast operating in Mexico and a couple of bands in Brazil, we are now confronted with a stunning debut album from Chili. Founded in 1996 as a Marillion (mainly Fish-era) cover band, Subterra soon started to develop their own tracks. Besides that, behind the scenes they worked to get some of the major European bands to come to Chili (like Martin Orford and Gary Chandler, Pendragon and Arena).
It is obvious that
their roots lie in the neo-prog style (sorry Martin and Alan, I'll
keep on calling it that). And I must say, they are (almost) up to the same level as their inspirations. Especially
the compositions themselves are very fine, with lots of different movements, cool prog-riffs and impressive
keyboard work. Absolutely fine symphonic/progressive rock in the style of the aforementioned British masters. With
a head count of six people in the band they produce a massive and rich sound. It's
a bit of a pity that the lyrics are in Spanish only (singing them in Castilliano is fine, but a translation
could be handy for those not too familiar with the Chilean language. The same holds for the web site).
One of the minus points is the vocalist. Not that he sings out of tune, but somehow his vocals are somewhat harsh. However, I do realize this is a very personal opinion, other people may very well love his style of singing. At least he tries to put in a lot of emotion in his performance. That is the idea of all the compositions: put in emotion, like Marillion in the Fish era, or the last three IQ albums. Having these references in mind, I think one can pretty well guess what the music must sound like. Especially the longer tracks like Sobre los rieles, and Cetrementti are full with complex melodic changes, whereas the shorter tracks are less complex and hit you more in the face, like the powerful Mantis, which has a variation of the Kashmir riff of Led Zeppelin as a basis or the more quiet Cada mil años or Prometeo, where some Landmarq influences can be heard. Their affiliation to Marillion of days past is most obvious in Primavera de Praga, an up-tempo track that will be appreciated by a lot of fans of the old Marillo's. Both the Kelly-keyboard playing and the Rothery-guitar are very much present here. A Misplaced South American Market Square Hero's Childhood or something ;-). Unfortunately, the review album I received is a misprint, meaning that the last part of Cada mil años and the first 6 minutes of Cetrementti cannot be played (on my stereo system Cetrementti cannot be played at all, but on my computer I am able to skip the corrupted parts and listen to the wonderful last minutes of the closing track, a bit in the massive Arena style, heavy keyboards and a slow crying guitar... O, I wish I could have heard the entire song!).
This is an album that every neo-prog fan who likes to be surprised should consider to buy, I believe one can obtain it at the Classic Rock Society. These guys show that Chili may one day be up front in the prog world. The nostalgic compositions, the fine playing and the good production convinced me that I could recommend the album:
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Twelfth Night - Collectors Item
It's not easy being a Twelfth Night fan. Most importantly of course, the band no longer exists. But besides that, recordings were never really easy to find. French record label MSI didn't have the best distribution, but at least something was being released on CD. Virgin was reluctant to release the eopnymous 1986 album on CD. SI Music released Live And Let Live - with bonus tracks! But then SI went bankrupt. MSI have gone bankrupt as well. Food For Thought ran out of copies of Collectors Item and the CD was sold out.
Fortunately, there seems to be an end to things like this. (...knock on wood...). A few years ago it started with Cyclops re-releasing the SI Music version of Live And Let Live. This year, the Swedish division of Virgin were doing something the English wouldn't do: consider a CD release of the Virgin album. Cyclops is working their way through a collection of previously unreleased recordings for a possible release.
And now Cyclops have also re-issued the out of print Collectors Item. And with that, they exchanged the easily available live version of Sequences for three songs that were not available on CD! 2001 looks like the beginning of a new era for TN fans...
In the Counting Out Time section, for the "1991" issue, I have reviewed the first edition of Collectors Item as being an essential item for anybody's collection of progressive rock. I still think it is. The music of Twelfth Night cannot be shared under the neo banner (oops, I used the "n" word...) of some of their contemporaries. And still there's not a lot of bands making this kind of music. Through all the years, the only resemblances to TN I heard were in the music of Italian 1990s band Tale Cue and 1980s USA band Netherworld. Those two are also still among my favourite bands.
For most of my thoughts on this album, I can simply refer to my Counting Out Time article. What I will write about here are the three new tracks.
First there is The Ceiling Speaks. Powerful opener of the Live And Let Live album, and it has been the live set's opener for a long time. This version is the only studio version the band recorded. In July 1983, the band recorded four songs as a demo for CBS Records (The Ceiling Speaks, Deep In The Heartland, Art And Illusion, and Fact And Fiction). CBS turned them down the day before the Reading Festival that same year. Knowing many live recordings of this song with slight differences, this studio version comes as no surprise. As Brian Devoil once described it, it is a powerful song, slightly agressive and not too complex. A great set opener. This version is not very different from the live versions I know, except of course the audience noises during the middle bit and at the beginning and the end. A great recording, too!
Deep In The Heartland is from that same CBS demo. I know a few live versions of this song, and hearing this studio version for the first time was a bigger surprise than The Ceiling Speaks. The sound is a bit dry compared to the live versions, which were often played in the damp heat of enthusiastic audiences. It's almost as if this version is more careful than the live versions. Naturally, better produced than all those completely un-produced bootleg live recordings. It's the first time I hear all the different aspects of this song. A shame this was not released before, but I am thankful this mistake has been corrected. The power is there, the energy is there. And Geoff's "heavy metal" scream at the end is there as well! ;-) From the studio recording you hear this is a great song to hear live. I hope a live version will be released on CD one day as well!
The last of the new songs is Last Song from the Virgin album (which still isn't available on CD). It was released on the vinyl version of the Food For Thought release of Collectors Item, making this its debut in digital form. It is a typical song from that 1986 album. Powerful, multi-layered song structure, tight playing, lots of overdubbed voice effects (all done by Andy Sears). It's a different type of complexity. Different than in previous years, but a new aspect for the band's music. Typical for the music the band played around that time. It is one of the strongest tracks on the Virgin album.
With Sequences being available on Live And Let Live, I think the band and record label did a great job replacing it with these three other tracks, making it worth buying even if you have the original. Of course, the 1988 recordings of Love Song and the magnum opus of their magnum opii, The Collector, are on this CD, and if you don't have the original Collectors Item CD, these two songs alone are reason enough to buy the CD.
The CD booklet has been changed slightly. Of course it mentions the new track listing and has the lyrics and recording details of the new tracks, but it also has different photographs inside. The front cover displays the painting a bit larger than on the previous release, and this time the booklet does credit it to be "The Poet Sniffs A Flower" by Geoff Mann.
Conclusion: I won't give a rating as it may sound biased coming from me; it's simply DPRP Recommended