Album Reviews

Issue 2002-007

Reviews in this issue:

Nolan & Wakeman - The Hound of the Baskervilles
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Verglas
Catalogue #:VGCD022
Year of Release:2002
Tracklist: Overture (5:57), The Curse of the Baskervilles (6:14), Three Broken Threads (4:37), Shadows of Fate (7:01), At Home in the Mire (4:52), Run for your Life (4:52), Picture of a Lady (3:41), The Argument (4:48), Second Light (2:00), Seldon (4:57)), Death on the Moor (6:13), By Your Side (3:32), Waiting (5:20), Chasing The Hound (4:34).

It's almost three years since Jabberwocky was released, the first collaboration between keyboardists Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman. Now they're back. Again they used a famous story (by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) for their concept album. Again they used a narrator to introduce us the story. Again the album features a host of guests. Never change a winning concept, they must have thought. And they were right.

This time, actor Robert Powell - in the role of Doctor Watson - is responsible for narrating the story. The beautiful way of telling and his very distinctive pronunciation, interrupted by haunting keyboard-solos are in a way very similar to Rick Wakeman's Return To The Centre Of The Earth. But of course, this is a different story. The Overture to the album introduces all the musical themes to us and after a few spins, you really start to recognize them.
When compared to its predecessor Jabberwocky, there are many similarities in approach. After the Overture it builds via the The Curse of the Baskervilles, the instrumental Three Broken Threads to my favourite Shadows of Fate.
The great The Curse of the Baskervilles features the role of dr.James Mortimer, 'put to life' by Ashley Holt, known for his work 25 years ago for The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Wakeman sr. Although he's using more of his lower voice here, the power is still there. In combination with the guitars, this track is heavier than most of the music on Jabberwocky. Tinkling keyboards echo Arena's The Butterfly Man and parts of the melody have a somewhat Shadowland-ish flavor. Needless to say this is a tasty mixture!
The instrumental Three Broken Threads is in fact no instrumental, since it features narration by Dr. Watson. The lyrics of these returning instrumentals are not printed in the booklet, but can be downloaded from the Verglas site. I have to say, these instrumental/narrative interludes are not boring at all. They feature some lovely synth-stuff, which makes this album more of a keyboard-album than Jabberwocky was.

As stated above, Shadows of Fate is one of my favorites on the album. This is where Bob Catley (of Magnum-fame) presents a very convincing Sir Henry Baskerville. Heavy rhythm-guitars by - I presume - Karl Groom (Threshold) and guitar-solos by Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) show that the two keyboardists know how to write for other instrumentalists as well. The chorus features a very addictive keyboard line, which is very close to the movie-song Gangsta's Paradise (Coolio). This one hits 'bull-eye'!
At Home in the Mire is a nice track with an up-beat, ongoing guitar line and Paul Allison's (the Tree on Jabberwocky) voice on top of it. This is a sort of in-between song, a bridge from Shadows of Fate to Run for your Life, sung by Tracy Hitchings (Landmarq) in the role of Beryl Stapleton. This track has some nice twists and turns from the quieter choruses to the more powerful choruses. Karl Groom - I think - has a short solo in the middle. If I'm not mistaken it's Paul Wrightson (ex-Arena) singing backing-vocals on this track. Sounds great.
Picture of a Lady is a lovely ballad, with Bob Catley showing the gentler side of his voice. Ewa Albering (ex-Quidam) adds something extra on flute. The chorus is one to sing all day.
The following The Argument is another slower track, which brings together Catley, Hitchings and Allison. The way they sing together is almost Broadway-music-like. The orchestral arrangements are 'topped' by Jo Greenland on violin create a real finale-feeling. But there's more to come…

Second Light is the shortest of the interludes, as a prefer to call them. It leads into another of my favourites, a heavy track called Seldon. It features Ian "Moon" Gould, who recorded with Medicine Man and Martin Darvill and toured with Landmarq. Although his voice is less Freddy Mercury-like than on some of his recordings, he still manages to grab me. Arjen Lucassen delivers a great guitar-solo. A great guitar-riff comes together with very enjoyable keyboards.
An almost middle-eastern melody (is that a coincidence?) sets the threatening atmosphere for Death on the Moor, on top of a pounding bass, while dr.Watson continues his report on the case, which is getting closer to completion at this point. Skip this track, and you'll miss the plot!
In the 12th track of the album a new character is introduced: Laura Lyons, impersonated by Michelle Young (Glasshammer), who recently released a solo-album with the help of Nolan. In By Your Side, a piano based song, Young uses her Kate Bush-like voice to create a bit of romance,… I really like the harmonies in this track.
Tension is growing as Mortimer, Stapleton and Beryl are Waiting. Heavy riffs add to this and even Hitchings' Beryl has a dark touch. With all singing together, this can be considered (although it's not the last track) as the finale…
If you want to know the real end to the story, you have to read the book, but Chasing The Hound reveals a bit (if not all) of the mystery. This instrumental track features several keyboard-solos on top of an ever faster beat by Tony Fernandez, who shouldn't remain unmentioned here. The orchestral theme from the Overture returns, but not until dr.Watson declares: 'the case is closed'.

So here, towards the end of my review, I am supposed to make my critical remarks, but this time it ain't easy, 'cause I have very few. I could say there are many narratives, but I do like the beautiful English spoken here. Of course, not all songs are instant hits, but in a tale like this, you need songs like At Home in the Mire to get from one point to another. Musically, the only bit I didn't fall in love with is the cymbals in the orchestral arrangement in the Overture. And, of course, it would have been nice to know exactly who is playing what on this album. Well, there you have it: my piece of criticism. Not very substantial, is it?
In comparison (inevitable in this case) to Jabberwocky, I think that album was a bit stronger on the melody-side, but The Hound is much stronger from a musical/instrumental point of few. If you have an extraordinary cast of musicians with backgrounds in bands like Yes, Pendragon, IQ, Threshold, Magnum, Landmarq, Ayreon, Quidam and Rick Wakeman Band you simply cannot go very wrong. All you have to do is write some decent music. Nolan and Wakeman accomplished to do more than that. There's some great stuff on this album.

Highlights: Shadows of Fate, Picture of a Lady, Seldon, Curse of The Baskervilles, Waiting

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Jan-Jaap de Haan

Mangala Vallis - The Book of Dreams
Country of Origin:Italy
Record Label:Tamburo a
Vapore Records
Catalogue #:TAVR 012001
Year of Release:2001
Info:Mangala Vallis
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Ouverture (1:47), Is the End the Beginning? (9:28), The Book of Dreams (7:05), The Journey (12:13), Days of Light (9:05), Under the Sea (3:34), Asha (Coming Back Home) (8:20), A New Century (10:22)

In the DPRPoll 2001 some people asked for more reviews of Italian prog bands. Well, here's one: Mangala Vallis, a three piece band with Gigi Cavalli Cocchi (drums), Enzo Cattini (keyboards) and Mirco Consolini (guitars and bass). The band claims to be following the musical tradition of acts like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Renaissance and Gentle Giant.

The Book of Dreams is presented as a concept album. The "concept" lies mainly in the lyrics, which are inspired on the writings of French novelist Jules Verne (whose story "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" had already inspired two Rick Wakeman albums).
Mangala Vallis has no singer in the band, so on this album they use three guest vocalists. My favourite songs on the album are sung by Vic Fraja. His voice is soulful and progressive, and - in a positive way - this guy sounds like Gabriel & Collins at the same time!! He sings on three tracks: The Journey, Days of Light and Asha (Coming Back Home). These songs are melancholic ballads with heavy mellotron and minimoog (with a pleasant Genesis And Then There Were Three sound), but also nice uptime instrumental sections with tight bass and drums, powerful hammond organs and guitars.

Those of you who are familiar with P.F.M. might know Bernardo Lanzetti, who sings on A New Century. I'm not too fond of his singing style, that seems to be quite popular with Italian and French singers (a bit raw, with a strong vibrato, but lacking on real power), but it's a nice track, again with some Genesis influences.
All of the songs on this album have long instrumental sections, but two of the tracks are fully instrumental: the short opening Ouverture, with mainly mysterious keyboard sounds, and Under the Sea, a powerful but short uptime piece, that sounds a bit IQ-inspired.

I must say that I have mixed feeling about two of the other tracks. Is the End the Beginning? is a nice energetic piece, with Spock's Beard-like vocals by Matteo Setti, and a touch of Kansas (same heavy organs). But the band "borrows" quite a lot from Genesis's Watcher Of The Skies. This lack of originality is even stronger on The Book of Dreams, with its melody that seems an exact copy of the verses of I know What I Like, and keyboards that sound a LOT like Marillion's Garden Party). And for a minute, I even thought I was listening to some sort of tribute album...

To conclude: I have the impression that The Book of Dreams is Mangala Vallis's first release, but the band sounds very tight, and capable of inventuous arrangements. It's a pity they try to sound like Genesis so hard. If they add a little originality, or maybe integrate some other influences in their music, this band has the potential to recreate an powerful and exciting retro prog sound. On this album it did work pretty well on about half of the tracks.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Rob Michel

Pineapple Thief - 137
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Cyclops
Catalogue #:Cycl 106
Year of Release:2002
Info:Pineapple Thief
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Lay On The Tracks (4:44), Perpetual Night Shift (5:27), Kid Chameleon (6:56), Incubate (3:28), Doppler (7:33), Ster (4:05), Release The Tether (5:09), How Did We Find Our Way? (3:54), 137 (5:09), Preserve (5:44), Warm Me (3:36), PVS (11:29), MD One (3:48)

After the relatively big success of the first Pineapple Thief album Abducting The Unicorn, Bruce Soord and companions have decided to create a successor to their debut, which Lang had done as a side-project from his regular band Vulgar Unicorn. Indeed some Vulgar Unicorn references can be heard, but the album is much more guitar oriented and in his song writing skills he comes close to Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson. This is the main reference for the musical style on the album (and coincidentally both bands have the same acronym PT). Also (earlier) Radiohead is a good reference point. There is something more coincidental about this album. I was wondering about the strange title of the album, 137. Looking at the poll results of their debut Abducting The Unicorn in the 2000 DPRP poll, I saw that that album ended up in place number....137. Well, how about that, DPRP as an inspiration for an album title ?

The album is written with "old-fashioned" instruments in mind: Mellotrons, Prophet 5 and analogue synthesisers and Fender Rhodes are used throughout the album, on the one hand creating a very rich but stylish sound, but on the other hand the abundant use of tremolo effects becomes somewhat annoying in some parts. Also the bass-playing seems rather uninspired. For the rest: the keyboards, guitars and vocals are excellent, the drumming is functional but not stunning. 137 is a very much melody based album therefore.

The album opens very Porcupine Tree like, I almost thought I was listening to an unpublished Lightbulb Sun track, although Soord's excellent vocals come closer to Radiohead. It is clear from the first song on that this is an album that can grow on you and you will listen to it much more often than to a lot of other albums. The Porcupine Tree/Radiohead cross-over style continues throughout the album. Kid Chameleon is a bit more esoteric than the first two tracks, however the heavy guitar riffs in the breaks put you down to earth again. It features some very fine guitar solo work, slowly, not a single note too much, like David Gilmour used to do.

I believe that if Radiohead is able to get a hit with their Pyramid Song, Pineapple Thief has some commercial potential as well. One of the best bets will be the short (therefor radio friendly) Incubate, which is a cross between Radiohead and a tat of U2, both in music and in vocals. But the next track is in my opinion much better, especially the second half which features a (real) string quartet and an excellent melodic guitar line. It has a bit of the Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled feel. Release the tether is dark and moody and the first half reminded me of the Rick Wright solo album Broken China, although the second half has an enormous drive to it, like early Porcupine Tree. Very good track! As a side-note, it is a bit of a shame that the track order on the album is different than is denoted on the booklet, which caused me some minor confusion.... The longest track on the album is the excellent pvs. With its subtle opening, the driving middle section, and pastorale closing, it managed to send some shivers down my spine. When a single track succeeds in doing so, an album is already a winner for me, as this does not happed very often. This track must be a treat to see live!

Well, as you must have guessed by now, I believe that if you like Porcupine Tree, Radiohead and (to a lesser extent) Pink Floyd, this album is a must. Not because it is a funny clone or something (as often is the case in the metal world with Dream Theater clones), but because this is an album that can rival with the first two bands in terms of composition and songwriting. Try it, you won't be disappointed!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Remco Schoenmakers

Mikromidas - Brennende Drømmer
Country of Origin:Norway
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4394.AR
Year of Release:2001
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Incognito City (3:58), Dvergenes Palass (4:10), Nostradamus (9:52), Pilegrim (5:33), Jublende Rekker (6:03), Middelveis (4:44), Berg Og Dvale (4:26), Døende Stein (4:49), I Tåketimen (5:19)

The Norwegian progressive rock scene has always been a vibrant one and Mikromidas are one of the latest groups to form part of this scene. The band is composed of Atle Bye (bass, vocals), Halvard Jakobsen (guiatrs, vocals), Øystein Larsen (Hammond organ, mellotron, piano, vocals), Ståle Leirtrø (guitar, vocals) and Rune Forselv (drums). Possibly the main drawback that the band face within the international arena is the fact that their lyrics are all conducted in Norwegian, not the most accessible of languages. Having said that, it is the music that actually counts and Mikromidas manage to come out with flying colours.

The band themselves describe their style as being mainly progressive rock with a folk rock flair. As often happens with Scandinavian bands, their music is dominated by folklore and images of mysticism, and Mikromidas are no exception. Some tracks in particular have their roots in medieval lore such as Berg Og Dvale (Hills And Hibernation) whilst others such as Dvergens Palass (The Palace Of The Dwarves) pick on the listeners' fantasy.

Musically the band tend to play a style that is firmly influenced by bands from the seventies, suffice to mention their use of both the Hammond organ and the mellotron throughout the album. The opening Incognito City has a harder rocking sound than most of the album with its bluesy organ sound while Dvergenes Palass is the first track that utilises the mellotron. Hearing this instrument brings into play obvious references such as early King Crimson as well as bands such as Anekdoten. Furthermore this track is also the first that actually involves a folky element in its structure.

Nostradamus, is the album's "epic" track running at close to ten minutes in length. Once again the brunt of the music seems to be borne by the duelling Hammond and mellotron, though the track also features some extremely interesting and complex arrangements with continuos shifts in time signature. Pilegrim (Pilgrim) features more of the mellotron drenched sound with the band acquiring a Wigwam touch as does Jublende Rekker. Having said that the latter track, has a more dramatic approach in its buildup, though the overall sound still remains firmly lodged in the past.

Other bands that Mikromidas have be compared to are Anektoden, Anglagard and Kvazar. This very true, especially when one takes into consideration the classical style in which their music is carried as well as the pressure borne by the keyboards/mellotron. In fact one of the main drawbacks is the rather homogenous sound that is perpetuated throughout the whole of the album resulting in very little to differentiate between the various tracks. It seems that Mikromidas have fallen into the trap of many keyboard/mellotron dominated bands that were so common in the seventies such as Aardvark and Quatermass just to mention two. Of the final tracks, only the closing I Tåketimen shows an amount of variety with a greater prominence given to the guitar.

Having said that, Mikromidas are a worthwhile addition to the Norwegian progressive rock contingent. As I mentioned earlier, the only drawback in terms of mass appeal that the band might face is the fact that their lyrics are in Norwegian, yet if you are prepared to ignore this fact then be prepared to hear a most enjoyable seventies influenced album.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Nigel Camilleri

Alan Loo - Memories
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4395.AR
Year of Release:2001
Info:Alan Loo
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Over The Hill (4:21), Spanish High Way (4:12), Old Man (5:07), Memories (4:01), Napoleon Way (5:14), Last Dream (3:28), Alone With You (4:56), Midnight Sun (3:26), Paradise Song (2:39), Memories Part 2 (1:40), Angela (4:24), Blue Light (3:04)

My reaction to instrumental albums is very much of a love/hate relationship and I must admit that I was delaying this review of yet another instrumental album, and thus approached Memories with a certain amount of misgiving. Thankfully the album was the complete opposite of what I expected and I must state from the onset that it is one of the most pleasant instrumental albums I have come across in a while.

First of all I must admit to knowing little or nothing about this French guitarist, and his presence on the Internet is virtually nil. However, one should also add that though the album is marketed as a solo album of his, it is not entirely his work that can be admired here. In fact he works on most tracks with a band helping out while the compositions as well as the string arrangements and drum programming come all courtesy of Alain Burger.

The music is soft an unobtrusive and is the ideal music for playing in the background. In itself it does not require repeated listening to get used to and is immediately accessible. At times it verges on the New Age (Memories), whilst at others there are hints of groups such as Camel (Old Man). One of progressive rock's most illustrious instrumentalists has been Alan Parsons and admittedly there are shades of his influence on the album (Napoleon Way, Memories Pt. 2, Blue Light). At time the music takes on an almost soundtrack feel reminding me of works that one would find by composers such as Ennio Morricone (Alone With You).

Having said all this, this particular album is executed in a most endearing way. There is a sense of ease as each track flows into the next without any particular sharp contrasts between one track and the other. In fact this is what gives the album its charm, yet at the same time might cause certain listeners to dismiss the album completely. Musically the album does not offer particular challenges to the listener and would not appeal to those hoping to hear an instrumental album replete with continuous changes in time signature and keys. On the other hand one could describe this album as being a cut above the average easy listening/New Age album as melody is combined to perfection with atmosphere. If you are looking for that album to relax to or play in the background whilst working, then this album will do just fine.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Nigel Camilleri

Album Reviews