Reviews in this issue:
- John Wetton - Rock of Faith
- Derek Sherinian - Black Utopia (Duo Review)
- Netherworld - Netherworld (Duo Review)
- Within Temptation - Mother Earth DVD
- Everon - Bridge
- Everon - Flesh
- The Gathering - Souvenirs
- Heaven's Cry - Primal Power Addiction
- Strings Arguments – The Encounter
- Cymoryl - Strange Evocation
- Morgana-X - Misunderstood
- Eric Kampman - The Well
- Braindoll + Holy Robot - Apostasy
- Earnest Woodall - Time to Think
John Wetton - Rock of Faith
John Wetton really does have the best of both worlds these days. With an overflowing address book full of stellar names from the past whom he can call upon for guest appearances on albums and at the occasional concert, and the cream of the newer progressive bands providing his core live band and the nucleus of recent recordings. However, despite all of this one does get the impression that, like that other great bass player Jack Bruce, Mr Wetton the solo artist has been somewhat overlooked. Sure, he is remembered for his contributions to such great bands as King Crimson (the Red era band is still the finest incarnation of that particular long-running musical soap opera), Uriah Heep, UK and most notably Asia, but his personal profile is rather less than others of his experience and stature.
This is a shame, as with one of the most distinctive voices in progressive rock, musical talent to spare and a knack for writing lilting melodies, he deserves to be more of a household name. With a slew of personal problems (hopefully) behind him, John Wetton has passed his half-century and starts off his sixth decade on the planet by releasing as strong and personal an album as any in recent years. The album sees the renewal of some old writing partnerships - Richard Palmer-James, in whose band John started his musical career back in 1965, co-writes one song and, for the first time in ten years, Geoff Downes, contributes to two. Elsewhere, Arena's Clive Nolan, one of the albums co-producers, John Young and Susan Shifrin (he wife of none other than David Cassidy!) each collaborate on a song a piece.
The musical collaborations may be fun but are not necessary artistically as the three strongest tracks are the ones that John wrote himself. A New Day features some great guitar from John Mitchell and the unmistakable sound of the Hammond, played by Geoff Downes, surrounding an infectious chorus; I Believe In You features the orchestral keyboards of Clive Nolan sounding very like a string quartet with the saxophone of Tim Garland and flute of Martin Orford making this a more classically orientated track while When You Were Young is an outstanding multitracked a cappella piece.
Of the collaborations, the tracks written with Geoff Downes, I've Come To Take You Home and I Lay Down will be of most interest to Asia fans dreaming of a reunion of the supergroup. Well yes, the magic is still there, particularly on I Lay Down, the big ballad that could have appeared on any of the earlier albums by said supergroup. The title track, co-written with Clive Nolan, provides a strong opening song featuring a persistent rhythmic backing and also the under-rated Peter Gee from Pendragon on fretless bass; Nothing's Gonna Stand In Our Way is quite a decent pop song while Who Will Light A Candle?, written with Richard Palmer-James is hymn-like in it's relatively sparse and simple arrangement. The only disappointing song on the album is Take Me To The Waterline, the John Young collaboration. It starts off fine but the chorus, which is repetitious in itself, seems to be endlessly repeated to the point of extreme annoyance!
On the whole, Rock Of Faith is a solid album. Fans of Mr Wetton will certainly not be disappointed and for those of you who are tempted to dip your toes in the pool of John Wetton solo material, this is as good a place to start as any, in fact probably better than most. But the style of the album is consistent with previous releases and offers little in the way of change. A more fruitful collaborator may well be found under John's very nose in regular live keyboard player Martin Orford. Despite years of playing together they have only co-written one song, the wonderful A Part Of Me and that appeared on Martin's solo album!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Derek Sherinian - Black Utopia
Derek Sherinian has the good habit of alternating albums with his band Planet X and his solo albums every other year. So last year I had the pleasure of reviewing the excellent Moon Babies, by Planet X, this year it is time for yet another solo album, his third so far.
As always Sherinian teamed up with a drummer to write the music, and this time former Billy Idol / Ozzy Osbourne / Foreigner drummer Brian Trichy had the honours of adding his creative input to Sherinian's own. Oddly enough, Trichy doesn't do the drumming on the album, but he plays additional guitar on most tracks. The stool behind the kit is occupied by co-writer of Inertia and producer of Moon Babies Simon Phillips.
Once again Sherinian managed to persuade some of his childhood 'heroes' to play on his album. This time none other than Yngwie Malmsteen and Al Di Meola added their talents to Planet Sherinian. The sound that could be described as the Yngwie-lick is immediately evident in the opener The Fury, which is just soundscapes from Sherinian's keyboard and a firing guitar solo on top. The other two tracks he plays on, Axis of Evil and The Sons Of Anu, wouldn't be out of place on a Malmsteen solo album either. Di Meola plays nylon guitar in the third act of the same track, as well as on the aptly titled Gypsy Moth.
Inertia collaborators Steve Lukather and Zakk Wylde handle lead guitar duties on the remaining five tracks. Basses are played by Sherinian veteran Tony Franklin (who also co-wrote Stone Days) and part-time Planet X bass player Billy Sheehan. Also present is regular collaborator Jerry Goodman on violin.
As I stated in my last Planet X review, I like Sherinian's solo work better. Mainly because it is more varied. And I think Black Utopia is his most varied yet. Apart from the 'standard' Sherinian-patented fast-paced fusion metal, which is most present in Axis of Evil and the title track, there are also more gentle moments in Stony Days and the Spanish sounding Gypsy Moth, as well as the stunning ballad Sweet Lament.
Sherinian also continued the good tradition started with Inertia of covering a track by one of his influences. This time it's Jan Hammer (famous for his score for eighties' TV series Miami Vice), whose StarCycle is featured on the album. I am not familiar with the original, but I immediately noticed a very distinct Jan Hammer Miami Vice sound when I first heard it - and that was even before I had read this was a cover song!
If you enjoyed the previous two solo albums by Derek Sherinian, then Black Utopia is an obvious must-have. It seems this guy is only getting better and better, and once again Sherinian has really surpassed himself!
The arrival of the Derek Sherinian album several weeks ago now was a pleasant surprise, however as it was an early promo copy it contained very little in the way of information. I don't particularly mind this as I always like to listen to each new CD with an open mind and not necessarily clouded by preconceptions or inferred literature. As Bart has covered in some detail the background to Black Utopia and of Derek's more recent releases I will endeavour to take a more detailed look at the music via a track by track analysis.
The CD opens with the brief and atmospheric The Fury, a low bass drone opens the proceedings, accompanied by textured strings, multi-layered keyboard sounds and sampled drum crashes. The fury, in the title, is provided by Yngwie Malmsteen, whose guitar playing glides effortlessly over the top of the keys - albeit at a hundred miles an hour. As the track subsides the music segues into The Sons of Anu, one of the many highlights from this album and a personal favourite.
The Sons of Anu is an avenue for each of the assembled players to display his skills to the full and at a tempo that leaves little time to breathe. From the opening bars this is a mixture of metal riffs, jazz fusion ideals topped off with great playing. Personally I would have purchased the album for the first two tracks alone, and there is still much to offer. The early part of the track sees the frantic swapping of lead lines between the guitar and keyboards, before moving into the more subdued atmospheric solo section, somewhat akin to the opening track. The tempo is picked up once again by some superlative classical guitar, I had not initially realised that my long time hero Al Di Meola was one of the guest musicians on the album, although my initial reaction to this, all too brief interlude, was that someone had mastered his genius. I digress, the track then develops this classical guitar passage as again solo passage exchanges, fly fast and furiously - even Billy Sheenan manages to hammer on a few bars. Last but not least, mention of Simon Philips who's drumming superbly underpins the track adding both a solid foundation as well as contributing to overall dynamics.
The only problem now is how to follow this, but the Nightmare Cinema does the job nicely. A slower tempo and a darker track altogether, this time Zakk Wilde and ex Mahavishanu violinist, Jerry Goodman are the musicians trading lead lines. Proceedings are taken back even slightly further for Stoney Days, which retains Simon Philips and Tony Franklin (fretless bass) along with Derek of course, this time however Steve Lukather heads the cast. His solo, which forms the basis for this sort of instrumental "ballad", is as always the case, tasteful and beautifully executed.
Ahh, Star Cycle, written by Jan Hammer and on the original version from Jeff Beck's - There and Back album he played not only the keyboard parts but also took on the drumming mantle. Sadly Jan is more remembered nowadays for the Miami Vice theme, rather than for his other wonderful musical talents. The version here is fairly faithful to the original score, the guitar duties going to Steve Lukather this time around and Derek Sherinian has captured much of Hammer's style in this excellent interpretation. A note of interest is that (a young) Simon Philips did in fact play the kit with Jeff Beck during the There and Back tour. Another note of interest perhaps was that Star Cycle was used as the theme tune to the ground breaking (if not invariably dreadful) TV programme - The Tube.
Axis of Evil heralds the return of Mr Malmsteen and the return of the more metal influences from the album. Again we are "trading licks" initially between Zakk Wilde and Yngwie before the track enters a somewhat less metallic phase. None of the power is lost, just a change in dynamics, and all of the musicians gel well together.
The slightly haunting Gypsy Moth was another highlight from Black Utopia, pity it was so short - but as the saying goes "great things come in little packages". A wonderful and gentle track which combines Al Di Meola on classical guitar and Jerry Goodman on violin. Following on from Gypsy Moth is yet another great track, this time featuring one of those beautiful and melodic guitar solos from Steve Lukather that just lodge in your memory.
The album closes with the title tune, and although it opens in a quiet fashion, it is just the lull before the storm. The advent of the metal guitars, which feature strongly in this piece, make this the heaviest track from the album. Black Utopia is more of a closing anthem and although there are solo passages here, the emphasis is on power and emotion. The end section was curious as again the intensity drops and the track gradually fades over a couple of minutes. Effective but curious.
At the end of this review I became conscious of how little I had mentioned Derek Sherinian throughout this article. A testament, perhaps, to the man who has written an album of good music, rather than as an avenue to display his own obvious talents. I pretty much liked this album from day one and since then each playing has increased my enjoyment. For those with a liking for their prog rock to air towards the fusion side would do well to track down this album. Fans of more complex prog metal will also find much in Black Utopia. For those who enjoy the both ...
Black Utopia is officially released on 22 April - tomorrow in fact. So for those who took part in the Poll and commented on our reviews being a little late appearing. Hope this is heading in the right direction. Have a good Easter.
Netherworld - Netherworld
Bonus track (previously released): Cumulo Nimbus (Cumulo 1 - The Approaching Storm (4:32), Cumulo 2 - In The Mist (1:56), Cumulo 3 - Among The Clouds (3:42)) (10:15)
I can't blame you for thinking this isn't the most objective review. I have made it clear many times this is one of my all-time favourite albums. Having been helpful in getting this album released on CD officially, is telling something about what I think about the album, and not a reason to be more positive about it in this writing. That's why we decided to make it a Duo Review. My fellow DPRP team member Mark Hughes, who only heard about the album last year, wrote his view on the album below.
This album gives us progressive rock songs with a great mix of complexity and melodics (instead of the emphasis on either of those), in marvellous arrangements. Most importantly, the musicians all perform with all their heart and soul. How can a bunch of human beings create an album full of such beauty, I have often wondered!
Too Hard To Forget is a great opener and although released in 1981, it shows signs of the type of prog you'd hear a couple of years later. The song structure and sound remind me a bit of Twelfth Night from around the same time: very melodic, slightly aggressive and not too complex. It still sounds very modern. And the arrangements and overdubbed vocals still amaze me. Maybe If They Burn Me, the original closer of side A shows the diversity of the band's composing. The frantic keyboard lines and especially Wade (Denny Gorden) Gordon's possessed vocals make this song the most aggressive one. Ahead of its time in 1981.
Son Of Sam is about a real mass murderer who thought the devil himself gave him orders to kill. At least one movie with the same title has been made about the killer, who called himself the Son of Sam, which was the name of the devil. And as in a thriller movie, the music is fast, complex, alternating heavy and gloomy, dark and mysterious. With Straight Into Infinity being softer than the previous two songs, it sounds like a bit of an intermezzo, but I have never experienced it that way. Again several themes are interwoven and alternating.
Side two of the original LP starts with two of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. Isle Of Man and A Matter Of Time are similarly structured in the fact that they start of kind of quiet, have all or most of the lyrics in the first part, and a large instrumental section ending the song. It's amazing when you think that Isle Of Man was the first song guitarist Scott Stacy wrote. The dreamy opening shows a picture of an island, like you're approaching it in a helicopter, making a documentary film. After two verses comes a break with nice cello playing, and a wonderful build-up to something bigger. A lot bigger. The instrumental section has started. A great highly melodic guitar and keyboard solo don't sound like solos, but are taking you on a high-speed rollercoaster ride. A great mixing job, as although so much is happening, you still hear the acoustic guitar clearly, adding only to the atmosphere, before taking you back to the last verse and slowing down easily.
A Matter Of Time is even better! Also starting off kind of quiet, although faster than Isle Of Man, it leads to a section that is the bridge between the vocal and the instrumental section. A cello piece proves this instrument is not used often enough in music. It speeds up the pace, taken over by the guitar takes towards the climax, where the keyboards take over from the guitar, into a magnificent solo that is just the beginning of the instrumental half of the song.
Although recorded in 1981, I think the concept of Sargasso is still unique in the world. A horror story put to music. Of course, driven by the half-sung half-spoken lyrics helps any horror story to be frightening. In three parts, the story tells of the sole survivor of an accident at sea, the Sargasso sea - the "fabled graveyard of ghost ships". Here he meets the ghosts of sailors, who plunge themselves onto the bodies of the main character's former crew mates. The detail of describing this would suit a horror story, but combined with the music, that is alternating complex heavy parts with mysterious and haunting support to the lyrics, it is a piece unrivalled till this day.
Hard to follow a piece like Sargasso, there is, however, a bonus track! In 1992, Syn-Phonic released a compilation double LP entitled Past - Present - Future, which included a previously unreleased Netherworld track: Cumulo Nimbus. When I first heard that song, again I was struck by the immense beauty of what the collective talents of this band were able to produce. A ten-minute instrumental that, together with Isle Of Man and A Matter Of Time, bring not only goosebumps (as all songs on this album do every time I hear them) but also tears of beauty to my eyes, full of unbelief how something can be this magical and divine. There are only a couple of songs in the whole world that are able to do that to me, and a single album that has three songs on it, can't be beaten. That, plus the feeling the whole album gives me is what it makes one of my all-time favourite albums.
Being a big Twelfth Night fan, I always found it remarkable that Netherworld was one of the very few bands to have something in common with them, soundwise. If you like TN or early IQ, you should definitely have a listen. Or better said, if you like your prog melodic, intense, original (still, after so many years!), you won't be disappointed. But there is so much more. The band members liked Genesis, King Crimson, Yes and there are influences from all types of music. This album has been an undiscovered diamond for too long, and I am sure will be liked by fans of all types of progressive rock.
This album was very modern at the time it was released, and it still is. I believe it still sounds that way after all that time. In contains so many different elements, and it never sounds forced, made up - it sounds so natural and fresh. Not a typical prog rock singer but one with a sound if his own, inclusion of cello and oboe in some places, the marvellous arrangements, the emotional playing, and the sheer beauty of this combination of talents, makes this album a timeless item in the history of rock.
I have heard people from very different musical background, with very different musical preferences, say that they were very impressed with this album. Fans of early Genesis, fans of early Yes, fans of Led Zeppelin, fans of neo-prog - they all liked the album. So whatever your ears tell you, you like, you'd better try and listen to this album instead of basing your opinion on my review. Forget this review, just listen to the music!
For this re-issue, a wonderful job's been done on cleaning the tapes. After so many years I thought I knew the album very well, but I hear several things, several sounds, I never heard before!
For this review, I had to listen to it several times with a reviewer's ear. My opinion hasn't changed, it will remain an all-time favourite, among albums like (but don't let this list keep you from having a listen) Pallas' The Cross And The Crucible, Twelfth Night's Collectors Item, and Timothy Pure's Island Of The Misfit Toys, and it deserves no other rating this this.
Originally released as a vinyl album in 1981 as a private pressing limited to 1,000 copies, the first, and only, album by West Coast American progressive rockers Netherworld finally sees a CD reissue. It is a real shame that we have had to wait 22 years to hear this magnificent album and that circumstances were such that the release of the album coincided with a period when progressive rock, particularly in America, was hardly flavour of the month . However, we get ahead of ourselves.
Netherworld were formed in 1975 when guitarist Kirk Long answered an advertisement in a local paper that had been placed by keyboard player Randy Wilson. Add a couple of friends on second guitar/bass and drums the initial line-up was completed when in late 1975 vocalist Denny Gordan joined the band. Over the next three years, Kirk, Randy and Denny were joined by a variety of musicians and it was not until 1978 that a more stable line-up came together with the addition of Scott Stacy on guitar, Peter Yarborough on bass and Thayne Bolin on drums (replaced in 1980 by Greg Schoppe although both appear on the album). Although live dates were rare, the band managed to build a solid reputation through playing original compositions mixed in with material by Genesis, ELP, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Despite not being able to afford any kind of advertising when In The Following Half-light was released in 1981 it gathered several favourable reviews and soon sold out.
The album opens with Too Hard To Forget, predominantly keyboard driven, the song has some very interesting multi-part vocals on the choruses, reminiscent, but not as complex, as some of the vocal arrangements that Gentle Giant experimented with in the mid 1970s. In contrast, Son Of Sam, the tale of the notorious serial killer, is more guitar led, including a couple of nice solos. I wonder if Matthew Parmenter has ever heard of Netherworld as Maybe If They Burn Me is prototype Discipline, particularly in the vocal delivery. The shortest piece on the album it is of a markedly different style to the other tracks but adds contrast that only enhances the overall appeal of the album.
The melancholic Isle Of Man is more Genesis in style. The acoustic guitar and cello (by bassist Peter Yarborough) opening has the feel of Can-Utility And The Coastliners while Randy Wilson's keyboards are much in they style of Tony Banks. Acoustic guitars and piano dominate the first half of A Matter Of Time which also nods in the direction of Genesis although the instrumental second half starts with a blistering guitar solo underpinned with chords played on the keyboards which is then mirrored by the keyboard taking the lead before finally the opening acoustic phrase is reprised but this time accompanied by synths instead of piano.
The original album closed with Sargasso, a gruesome three-part tale of ship-wrecked mariners set upon and devoured by demon menaces. Focusing mainly on the narrative, the music mainly adds texture to the tale and although there are some interesting sound effects embellishing the tale, overall the song is somewhat disappointing to my ears, particularly after what had come before. Thankfully, the CD does not end here as an additional track, Cummulo Nimbus which had previously appeared on the Syn-Phonic compilation album Past - Present - Future in 1992 has been added to the CD to complete the collection of previously released Netherworld music. And what a fine way to end the album! Completely instrumental, the track is split into three parts (and is sequenced as such on the CD), that take the listener on a ride through the emotions, displaying different moods and textures, if this is the area that the band were heading into, then their demise is all the more regrettable. Unfortunately, Netherworld were too late for the heyday of progressive rock and too early for the 1980's resurgence. When vocalist Denny Gorden, enamoured with the new wave music that was arriving in the US in the early 80s, quit the band followed shortly after by lead guitarist Scott Stacey, the rest of the group could no longer promote the album and so quietly disbanded. More's the pity.
Within Temptation - Mother Earth Tour
DVD Disc 1: Live Concert Video (71:44) Deceiver of Fools, Caged, Mother Earth, Enter, Our Farewell, The Dance, The Promise, Dark Wings, Restless, Deep Within, Neverending Story, Ice Queen: Music Videos (13:24) The Dance, Ice Queen, Mother Earth
DVD Disc 2: Backstage Shots (34:26), 'Making Of' videos (7:37), Impressions and Interviews (35:49), Extras: - Broerenkerk Zwolle and Ice Queen (multi-angle version) (20:34)
CD: Deceiver of Fools (8:17), Caged (5:51), Mother Earth (5:33), Enter (7:05), Our Farewell (5:24), The Dance (5:08), The Promise (8:05), Dark Wings (4:55), Restless (6:21), Deep Within (4:19), Neverending Story (4:40), Ice Queen (5:54)
This is the Second DVD from the band in less than 12 months and although it is aimed primarily at the band's fanbase in the Benelux countries, there is plenty here which will be of interest to the band's fans around the world. They had originally aimed to release a DVD of a performance recorded at the Broerenkerk in Zwolle during November 2001, but changes in the band's line-up forced a re-think. The Mother Earth mini-DVD from July 2002 was an excellent stopgap release and sold very well. It drew upon some performances in France in April 2002 and gave the band the breathing space to film their summer 2002 festival performances and to put together this tasty package which arrived in the shops just in time for Christmas.
For those who are not familiar with the band, they are a 6-piece band from the Netherlands who consist of Robert Westerholt (guitar) and his girlfriend Sharon den Adel (singer), as well as long-time member Jeroen van Veen (bass guitar) and more recent additions Martijn Spierenburg (keyboards), Stephen van Haestregt (drums) and Ruud Jolie (guitar). They started out with a dark Gothic Metal sound on their debut album Enter before softening their sound considerably and adding more than a touch of folk and symphonic elements for the second full CD release Mother Earth in 2000.
2002 was the year of their mass breakthrough in the Benelux countries, with their single Ice Queen topping the charts in both Holland and Belgium while the Mother Earth album went on to reach Gold Record status in Belgium, and Platinum status in their homeland. Despite this success, the group maintain a relaxed and fun-loving attitude throughout the DVD with many of the video extracts shot by the band members or their friends during the course of their adventures and it charts their rise to success, including some early TV appearances, award ceremony performances as well as showing them playing at some large festivals.
The bulk of the first DVD consists of a live concert performance. 9 of the 13 songs presented here were filmed at the Lowlands Festival, where the huge stage allowed them to use their pyrotechnics and their rather unique 'inflatable forest', but the flow is slightly disrupted by the appearance of two songs performed at each of the Pukkelpop and Rock Werchter festivals. The setlist is taken largely from the successful Mother Earth album, with just a few older songs included and matches the tracklist of the live album that is also included with the package. The band are very lively on stage and clearly enjoy themselves as much as their adoring audience, while the sound is perhaps a little heavier and rawer than on their studio CDs. Gea Gijsbergen makes a guest appearance to sing with Sharon den Adel on Our Farewell, while Orphanage's George Oosthoek handles the vocal duties on one of the older tunes, Deep Within which requires a growling voice, allowing Sharon to take a breather.
The remainder of the disk is made up of music videos produced to accompany some of the band's singles and E.P's. Of these the animated video for 1999's the Dance is rather bleak, amateurish (reflecting the budget available to the band at the time) and not really TV-friendly while one can see some of the charm which made The Ice Queen video a popular viewer's choice on Dutch music channel The Box. Finally, the professionally shot video for Mother Earth sees the band dressing up and clearly revelling in playing up to stereotypical Gothic Metal imagery. The disk doesn't present much in the way of special features other than the ability to choose between Stereo and 5:1 sound and the addition of subtitles (for the lyrics) during the live concert footage.
Moving on to the second of the DVD's we find some behind the scenes videos showing the band enjoying shopping for the clothes and haircuts which make their first appearance in the Mother Earth video as well as Sharon den Adel dressing up with a wig and a huge pair of wings for the covershot of the Mother Earth album. The Backstage and Interviews sections feature dialogue almost exclusively in Dutch but nevertheless give an insight into the goings-on behind the stage as the band prepare for festival appearances and for their shows in Mexico and are definitely of interest to the keen fan. For instance fans of Sharon and the amazing dresses she wears on stage will find out the nicknames that have been given to the blue, the red, the white and the yellow (called bumblebee) dresses.
There is also interesting music content in the form of the performance of two songs at the Broerenkerk in Zwolle, an acoustic performance of Ice Queen for 2MXL and a multi-angle version of the same song taken from the Lowlands Festival performance. The package also contains further goodies in terms of a series of photos of the band members, an 'easter egg' in the form of a simple unreleased tune, entitled Gothic Christmas and of course the 'bonus' live CD.
Worthy of release by itself, the live disks contains the entire Lowlands festival performance. The production is great and the disk conveys all the energy of the band's live performance very well indeed. Sharon's voice is pretty good throughout and though the male guest singer during Deep Within works very well, the presence of the female vocalist Gea Gijsbergen on Our Farewell is not as successful and her overly dramatic singing appears to disrupt the flow of the song. That aside, it is a very fine live disk indeed.
Also well worthy of mention is the fantastic booklet which accompanies the set. Packed with the lyrics of the songs as well as masses of great photos by Nathalie Beerens, the booklet is the work of Natascha Van Poppel and a great online version of the booklet can be seen at StudioMystica
While one might criticize the package for the piece-meal nature of much of the video contents, one cannot complain at all at the sheer volume of material presented here, warts and all. The band's own home-video footage is every bit as interesting as some of the larger budget performances and for a fan of the band who has followed their rise to success over the last year or so, this provides a fantastic insight into the band.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Everon - Bridge
Everon should need no introduction for lovers of top quality Progressive Rock or Metal. Fusing influences from Rush, Saga and Dream Theater with their own highly melodic identity, Everon have been steadily developing their skills over the course of four albums since 1993’s Paradoxes debut. These two albums were released several months apart in 2002, but the original intention was for a double album or at least a simultaneous release, and therefore they are reunited for this twin review. As is usual for Everon, both these releases come draped in excellent artwork by Australian artist Gregory Bridges, although the image chosen for Flesh would suggest a far harsher and brutal approach than is in fact the case.
Bridge was the first to be released and, of the two, is the more “traditional” Everon release, if a little heavier in places than previous albums.
It opens with the brief Bridge Theme which consists of a tinkling musical box melody, which is then inflated by the full band in grand style. It is simultaneously melodic and bombastic, segueing seamlessly into Across The Land. This track sees all the Everon trademarks nicely in place: driving rhythms, powerful dramatic sections, impassioned (if ever so slightly accented) vocals, beautiful melodies and quieter piano-led sections. As always, the transitions are skilfully handled and never forced. Juliet continues with a percussion and guitar groove, before returning to a more typically styled chorus, and has great, emphatic vocals by Phillips.
Next up are two of my favourites, Travelling Shoes and Driven, the former being a melancholic acoustic ballad and the latter a tightly plotted exercise in dynamics, alternating quieter passages with a frenetic, metallic chorus, underpinned by orchestral elements. If You Were Still Mine is a fine example of Oliver Phillips’ talent as a lyricist, weaving intelligent, bittersweet tales that are painfully believable, full of hope and regrets, and always matching the moods with the most appropriate music imaginable. Ten Years Late piles on the heavy riffs, but never loses sight of the melody, and again utilises strings to good effect.
Not This Time is this album’s mini epic, clocking in at 6.46 and featuring some of the most emotional vocals and lyrics, set to suitably intense symphonic rock. This track is a real winner. Puppet Show is a ProgMetal instrumental in the vein of Dream Theater. It adds some variety to the album, and is a good example of its genre, but pales beside the rest of the songs. Carousel is another typical Everon song, strongly melodic with forceful rhythms and excellent guitar work. It fits the Everon signature sound so well that it is surprising to learn that this song is written by guitarist Ulli Hoever rather than Phillips.
Harbour is an anthemic, dramatic ballad, squarely in the territory that this band have made their own. This is the kind of stuff that has me coming back for album after album. Bridge is the fitting conclusion to an album that is dripping in emotional intensity and awash with subtle changes in mood and feel. It includes a terrific guitar solo and sees the return of the opening theme to rewarding effect.
A glance at the ratings below will reveal that I prefer Flesh to its predecessor, although the difference in quality is slight. Even so, I am not going to do a track-by-track account for Flesh, instead I will single out a couple of high points, after I have stressed that I love this album from start to finish.
The first track And Still It Bleeds is an intense masterpiece, which grows on me with every listen. Superbly crafted, it blends hard rock with rich symphonic layers of sound, and contains yet another of Everon’s winning melodies. Already Dead and The River feature duets with Judith Stuber, who has a gorgeous voice (I’m thinking a more restrained Kate Bush here) that fits well with Oliver Phillips’ and enriches the material to pleasing effect. Most of the rest of the songs are slightly softer, and more orchestrated than those on Bridge, giving this album a more Progressive, less metallic flavour.
The centrepiece of the album, however, is the title track, which contains some of the heaviest passages that Everon have ever produced, with aggressive vocals adding to the effect. As you might expect form its epic length, the song also contains many changes of mood and still has the lush melodies and layers of symphonic keyboards that we know and love this band for. Missing From The Chain is a beautifully fragile ballad with a lovely string arrangement and emotive vocals. Half As Bad sets lyrics that are unusually honest about a love affair, to an uplifting tune laced with incisive guitar.
Having found that I’ve still managed to mention most of the tracks, I’ll stop now, leaving one or two surprises for you to discover when, as I strongly recommend, you rush out and buy both these superb albums.
Conclusions: Bridge - 8.5 out of 10 / Flesh - 9.5 out of 10
The Gathering - Souvenirs
The king is dead, long live the king! Returning to the scene after the EP ‘Black Light District’ from late last year is Dutch band The Gathering. The first full album on their own independent label Psychonaut Records is Souvenirs and what an album it is!
The legal battle The Gathering had to fight with former label Century Media has given the band a very strong feeling of self confidence and Souvenirs couldn’t have expressed that feeling any better. The first glimpses when hearing the album for the first time are of mystery, and album to dicover along the way...again. They really have a way of doing this since the How To Measure A Planet? album. I actually enjoyed the If_Then_Else album a bit more but both albums lead the way and come together on Souvenirs. By adding some extra ingredients like guest vocals, more loops, bleeps and other structured noises The Gathering re-re-re-invent themselves. And it has to be said, singer Anneke van Giersbergen is still developing her songwriting and vocal skills but where will it end, if ever?
Songs...so many songs on Souvenirs ... I really can’t pick a song that stands out comparing to the others, and it wouldn’t be fair too. Some people call this genre ‘Trip Rock’, well that doesn’t mean anything to me. This is The Gathering and their music, take it or leave it. A true jewel in the Dutch and European music scene that should be treasured. For life, for love, for you, for me.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Heaven's Cry - Primal Power Addiction
At the end of last year, just before I was to quit working for DPRP, a final batch of CD's to review arrived at my door. One of them I have left undone, and here it is finally. I feel I must apologize to both band and record label for this extraordinarily long time between sending and reviewing and I am sure this will not happen again with the new reviewers. On the up side: I did get a lot of time (and actually took it) to listen to the album and let it ripe and grow.
Heaven's Cry is a Canadian prog metal band with a clear superficial reference to Dream Theater, meaning complex metal, but actually I hear a lot of Echolyn-like structures in this music. I do believe that the jazzy feel of many of the pieces can better be described in that context than in the context of the heavy metal of Dream Theater. Also there are hints of Fates Warning and the like. Especially the first two tracks have a rich structure and are quite good. On the rest of the album their metal ambitions start to shine through more clearly. But still, with two vocalists and a bunch of guitar players, they manage to create a thick sound. I can imagine however that the audience for this band is quite small, as their music is even more complex and unaccessible than for instance Pain Of Salvation, another metal band that springs to mind when listening to this disk, but maybe I am underestimating the potential audiences. As they have signed with former DPRP-member René Janssens' label DVS records, chances are very high that they will come to Holland for a prog-power festival.
Should you go and see them, I believe it is a very good idea if you'd listen to this album a couple of times before seeing them live, because I am convinced the music will otherwise be incomprehensible. A track like Komma, for instance, is too much for me. Distorted vocals, pounding bass, drums and a general assault on your sanity. If I would see this live, and not knowing the rest of the album, I'd leave and get a beer or something. However, they follow it up with a very good prog metal ballad like Remembrance, the only track on the album of which I was able with my pitiful mind to remember the chorus of. The next two tracks are again a bit over the top in terms of complexity, but the closing ballad The Inner Stream Remains is a gem of self-control. Here they manage to find the balance between mood and melody. The album ends with a cover of Midnight Oil's Beds Are Burning, in quite a strange orchestration, but not deviating too much from the original.
The overall impression of the album is positive, though. The fact that I am not able to get my mind around some of the pieces, even after many, many listenings, is not an excuse for not rating the album high, as the musicianship is clearly very high, although I think they have pushed it a bit to far on some tracks, like Komma. If on the next album they are able to get a bit better balance between the very, very loud tracks and the very, very ballad ones, I believe this will be a band to start rival Pain Of Salvation.
O and just to make sure: even though they originate from Canada, they do not sound like Rush. Thank God.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Strings Arguments – The Encounter
Are you ever in the mood for experiencing some adventurous live music in an intimate atmosphere, but you don’t feel like going out, or you just aren’t close to any good nightclubs? This CD may be just what you are looking for. With their new album This Encounter, documenting a January 2002 performance at Kyoto’s Live Spot RAG, Japan’s Strings Arguments offer a live recording of some very exiting progressive fusion.
Strings Arguments is made up of five very talented musicians. Three individuals from the band Six North (Hideyuki Shima on bass, Shinju Odajima on guitar, Hiroshi “Gori” Matsuda an drums) violinist Akihisa Tsuboy from the band KBB and guitarist player Hirofumi Okamoto. You can get an idea of the wonderful virtuosity of this band simply by seeing a partial list of others some members of Strings Arguments have performed with. People like Grover Washington Jr., Steve Morse, Jorge Cumbo, and Kenny Kirkland are some with whom members of Strings Arguments have worked. This is a band of brilliant musicians working ‘in concert’ with one another, communicating musically on a high level. Read on for a brief track by track, or skip to the last paragraph for summation.
To begin the set, the group launches into a 6½-minute improvisation simply labelled Improvisation. This remarkable display of real time abstract communication between the musicians smacks, atmospherically speaking, of a Grateful Dead space jam (but imagine with Elvin Jones playing drums).
As though still part of the improvisation, the band segues seamlessly into the first ‘proper’ composition, From Sri Lanka to Titan. This piece is decidedly more intense but retains much of the atonal quality of the first offering, becoming much more a child of Mahavishnu Orchestra than the opener.
From there, the laid back and lyrical Everything Becomes Circle continues the sonic compliment and features some lovely violin playing which reminds me a bit of Jean Luc Ponty’s work. This piece also features a wonderfully melodic bass solo by Hideyuki, who is also the primary composer of the group.
Out of the warm dreaminess erupts a fantastic polyrhythmic drum solo, which acts as an intro to Silence, Darkness. This epic hard driving groove oriented number, which is kind of a Miles Davis/ Mahavishnu Orchestra hybrid creature, contains some remarkable soloing. As a matter of fact, this piece has what in my opinion is the most incredible and imaginative solo of the set, which is performed by Hirofumi Okamoto. Hideyuki once again gets to solo here also, but this time displays his chops more intensely than before. The tune finishes with a ‘duel’, which is labeled in the credits as “Akihisa vs. Shinju”… listen to this one closely (think of David Cross’ work with King Crimson when the violin plays)!
Energy is tuned down to a mellow, easy feel with Kyoto No Natsu – One Summer Afternoon in Kyoto, a magically relaxing piece written by guitarist Hirofumi Okamoto.
Another blazing fusion adventure called Kundabuffer finishes off the album. This is a marvelously exiting composition which begins with the full band playing an angular intro melody, which dissolves into a driving drum and bass groove (think Genesis’ Los Endos) for solos. Akihisa’s violin solo soars, dances, and finally sears. Hirofumi also provides some more wonderful and jaw-dropping work in this piece before Shinju lets loose with some marvelously abstract and inventive improvisation.
All in all this CD is a great live document of a fantastic performance by some extremely talented musicians. Be aware that this is progressive fusion, with lots of serious improvisation and great soloing, and may not be for the progressive rock purist. The recording is crystal clear, but as was stated in my introduction, reflects the nature of the venue in which it was recorded. Club sounds are occasionally noticeable, such as the occasional glass clinking, or a faintly heard voice during a quieter moment. But all of this adds to the ambiance of the album and for me increases the level of enjoyment. Each track, except from #1 to #2 has an audience fade out, which I like. The CD cover art is very high class and the liner notes are superb - brief, but very informational. Recommended for those whose tastes lean toward edgy, abstract, more jazz oriented progressive music.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Cymoryl - Strange Evocation
Cymoryl started out as a cover band in 1996 and it took them until 2001 to release a demo of original compositions - all of the tracks from that demo found their way onto this first full album. Cymoryl creates a good combination of progressive rock and metal. I have been doubting whether to call this progrock or progmetal, although Cymoryl themselves label it as progmetal. Of course such a label is not really important but it might give an idea of what is album is like.
I think you can hear that although this is Cymoryl's first album they are an experienced band, the songs are nicely balanced and all band members are technically proficient. The fact that Cymoryl was a cover band first has not rubbed off onto the songs on Strange Evocation, they are quite original and by now you must have noticed that I am very positive about Cymoryl's music.
Alain Puget does not have a really beautiful voice, it is perhaps a bit thin, but his vocals fit the music well. I certainly do not mean to say that he sings out of tune or something. Guitarist Jean-Christophe Panza is responsible for all compositions on the album and his guitar playing is excellent. The drummer Marc Santiago is also responsible for most lyrics, although other members have also delivered lyrics. Renaud Boyer the bassist is responsible for many of the pumping rhythms of the tracks. Frédéric Allegre plays keyboards and piano, I especially like the piano in some of the songs.
First track Futile Things starts off with a slow piano after which pumping metal guitars and the drums (which are really good here) set a much faster pace . This track has much to offer with tempo changes to lingering screaming guitars, calm keyboards, vocals to double bass drums. But still you won't get lost in. Strange Evocation - Part 1 is a mellow track that flows into the uptempo Strange Evocation - Part 2 the guitar in this song is simply superb. In My Duty standard metal guitar work can be heard, but Cymoryl slips in a number of original tempo changes (in a more progrock vein) so it is not a standard metal track. Lunacy in my opinion is a just a good progrock song, the progmetal influences are not really there. The same can be said of rocksong Exile, it does have nice tempo changes but maybe not enough to keep it interesting, I find it one of the lesser tracks of the album. In Eternal Being the drums play a more prominent role than the other tracks or at least I found them more noticeable. But again the guitars also play an important role, especially towards the end. Soldier Of Shame surely sounds like an Iron Maiden song, but during the song this comparison is shaken off. At the end of the album is a hidden song (after minutes of silence) Saga. Why do bands still do this? I hate it! It is in no way original (a large number of albums contain such a song), it is not possible to skip to this song. Saga is certainly not the best song on this album so I will not bother to skip to the end.
As I have stated, Cymoryl is making progmetal on the verge of progrock, but hey, is that not what progmetal is supposed to be all about? I do like this music on the "softer side of the border" but it might be a disappointment if you are looking for "clean progmetal". Cymoryl's compositions are good (complex but not too complex) and all musicians are technically good, although the vocals could be more powerful. Listening to Cymoryl to form an opinion for this review sure was a pleasant task.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Morgana-X - Misunderstood
Coming from Arnhem in Holland, Morgana-X is a new band quickly building a reputation as an outfit capable of bringing a welcome breath of fresh air to the Progressive Rock/Metal scene. And on the evidence here, I can more than see why. Just 18 months after the release of a live rehearsal demo, this is their first full-blown promo, and boy does it reveal a band with a lot of potential.
Morgana-X deal in high-quality Progressive Metal, but have developed a somewhat unique style - taking the normal structure of the genre but adding an unusual combination of driving melody and some very, very soulful vocals. Think Pain of Salvation and Enchant but mixed with a pop sensibility of say Marvellous 3 - indeed Butch Walker is stated as an influence of vocalist Eddy Borremans.
Within a couple of days of its release this CD had secured the band a place on the Headway Festival in Amsterdam, where I had the good fortune to catch their high-energy performance just a week ago. From that, I can certainly tell you that the potential shown on this disc is more than enhanced by their stage show.
Of the songs, there's nothing of a poor quality here. Opener The Rider is the most straightforward - built on a solid, rolling riff with some nice keyboard touches. Next up, Eternal Life is where Eddy's vocals are at their most dynamic and soulful while A Path Of Daggers is currently my favourite - probably because of its moody and metallic vibe and the fact that it possesses a killer chorus. The disc ends with a case of Bad Religion - the most atmosphere and progressive track, with the bonus of another good melodic line that reminds me of fellow Dutch progsters Ricocher.
Of course this is a demo, so the production isn't crystal clear. I also think greater attention should be made to some of the backing keyboards and guitars. To these ears, they tend to sound a bit deep and sludgy and do lack that edge and variety that would really give the songs an extra element. But anyway, unusually for me with demos, I get to the end of Misunderstood and the only real disappointment, is that there isn't another four tracks.
Thankfully a full album is underway and from the evidence so far, this is a band to watch very closely. A visit to their website will also provide some good video footage and full downloads of their original demo. A bargain! To ensure there's no way that I be misunderstood, let me just say one thing - I love it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Eric Kampman - The Well
Eric Kampman started his musical education on the piano at the age of five, and it shows. Between its forming in 1981 and its disbanding in 1992, he played keyboards and sang in the band Now, but have now moved on to recording solo projects. The Well is his first solo CD (another one, The Gate, is apparently under way) and it contains music which often reminds me of late 70s/early 80s Genesis (very much so on account of the keyboard sounds). Another strong reference, in my opinion, is A-Ha, mostly due to Kampman's voice sounding very much like Morten Harkett's.
In terms of composition, I think The Well is an inspiring piece, ranging from long complex, developing structures to shorter poppy melodies. Of the nine tracks, two are instrumental, but otherwise it is a combination of vocals, keyboards and drums (which I suspect are programmed). Being a sceptic of programmed drums in prog music, I must admit that Kampman is one of the people who makes that work. The drums never spoil the melodies (even though a real drummer could probably add a little bit extra).
My favorite track is the title track with its great piano extravaganza showing off Kampman's talents and brilliant vocals, but I also enjoy the simpler pop moments such as Green at Dusk and the Chroma Key reminiscent Scaffolding with its Crimson-esque interlude. All in all, the CD is very enjoyable. Kampman is not only a very skilled keyboard player with a very good voice, but also a more than decent composer. However, at times, I cannot help but wonder how much further this could go with a full band setting - and I feel the urge to actually check out Now at some point in the future, to get an idea of just that. This said, it is a great CD, which should appeal to fans of keyboard based music, late 70s/early 80s Genesis and/or A-Ha.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Braindoll + Holy Robot - Apostasy
Disc 1: . (1:00), Zero (5:58), Even Space Wizards Get old (2:25), Dreams 2 (2:55), Hohn Ba Hazami (2:42), Brewed (5:02), Extreme Being (4:50), Take All Your Money And Run (3:44), The Long Sought Existence (4:36), Resolution (8:44), Forever For Me (12:00), No Name (4:04), The Unexplainable (4:37), Portrait (Rogue's Lament) (6:34)
Disc 2: Core (2:55), A Warning (5:15), Problematic K (5:16), Lost For Words (4:11), Inaugural (3:30), Apotheosis (1:27), Orn Deception (11:34), Speeches Of A Man (4:46), Everybody (7:06)
For this double CD package, Braindoll have teamed up with Tim Boucher (aka Holy Robot) who provides the story and artwork for an ambitious concept album / "rock opera" with a view to the future whilst retaining a taste for the past. This is their third release, and the five-piece band have presented themselves with quite a challenge to overcome the triple stigmas of double/concept/opera album. Let's see how well they can pull it off...
After a short choral introduction, "Quest 1" starts off with Zero - a grating string synth arpeggio, quickly joined by energetic, thrashing guitar chords. The guitar solo is grungy and meandering, but with a hint of Caravan precision. The vocals are somewhat lost in the mix, and become difficult to distinguish - a problem inherent with a number of tracks on the album unfortunately.
There is a better balance on Even Space Wizards Get Old, which is a more straightforward rock song - space-rock with an early-Rush flavour in places, and a wide dynamic range. Dreams 2 is a quieter, mostly acoustic piece with a spoken vocal verse, and manages to provide a dreamy atmosphere.
Hohn Ba Hazami is like Frank Zappa's Jazz Discharge Party Hats played by a full circus troupe, starting with the clowns and ring-master before being joined by the rest of the circus. It describes the building of the Earth by aliens, and what they sing as they work to a cheesy hammond organ-type backing - a very busy track with numerous layers of sound. Another contemplative track follows - Brewed sees God appreciating his newly-built planet. A gentle vocal backed by acoustic guitar and chimes - a little like Meddle-era Pink Floyd. The vocals work well on these quieter songs, suggesting a different vocalist or style would perhaps be more effective on the band's louder numbers.
Extreme Being is a hard-edged guitar track, with vocals again struggling to be heard until about halfway through the track when the instrumentation becomes more like Caravan. A heavily-distorted vocal is backed by acoustic percussion (bongos, etc.) and baroque harpsichord-like keyboards for Take All The Money And Run, which becomes a very simple, yet beautiful instrumental with acoustic guitar and piano. The Long Sought Existence features a dreamy vocal floating over a waltz backing which switches to an aggressive chorus to maintain a strong dynamic balance.
Resolution is a longer track in a few sections - the first has quite a strong vocal, and plenty of rolling around on the Toms but is fairly uninspiring. Some tastefully legato melodic guitar work follows this, backed by vocal "la-la's" to fill out the sound. Almost inaudible vocals return towards the end, then a gently pulsing bass finishes the piece alone. An aggressive, sythesised percussion track, Forever For Me quickly changes the musical scene. This is joined by a gentle repetitive vocal line, then radio sounds and synth effects and finally a stronger vocal joins in. This is very harsh, layered, industrial music - not at all easy on the ears, yet it rewards listening with its constantly changing textures and juxtapositions. When the simple piano line takes the lead and the noise dies away it comes as a relief, but only for a moment, as a pounding bass-synth beat forces itself back in, along with pulsating and evolving synths, finally dying out to the sound of echo-laden guitar and piano.
Returning to more conventional song territory for No Name, the ballad-like style is much more suited to Jason Perillo's vocals - they sit well in the mix. There's some nice acoustic guitar accompaniment in places, quite Mediterranean in atmosphere, and a soaring slide guitar solo not unlike Dave Gilmour to complete the track.
The Unexplainable would not be out of place on a Radiohead album - a slowly paced verse followed by a catchy upbeat chorus, and probably the best vocal performance on the album - they really suit this song very well. The last minute mutates the song with synth effects leading out into the final track on disc one. Portrait (Rogue's Lament) starts as a beautiful acoustic piece with a folky quality on piano, guitar and vocal. When the rest of the band join in, the track lifts to an anthemic level - very effective. The acoustic version returns at the end of the song, and "Quest 1" is over.
The second disc starts with Core - gentle synth pads overlaid with distant echoing guitars and brief snippets of vocals and themes from the first disc. Fairly insubstantial, this track serves as an overture to the second part.
A Warning starts off in Pink Floyd style with a baby crying and acoustic guitar. The song then features a regularly repeating backing for each verse, before the baby returns to herald in an instrumental section. The pace is then taken up a level for Problematic K which is a fairly straightforward rock number. Heavily distorted vocals distract slightly, as they are unintelligible, but this is a minor point. A short break, with a nice spoken sample from Roddy McDowell, leads up to a section repeating the chorus and allowing for the instrumentation to come to the fore, before finishing with the famous last lines from Planet of the Apes.
Lost for Words is another track with a juxtaposition of styles - light and subtle guitar chords floating over an aggressive sampled percussion backing - forming each verse. The chorus has a soaring melodic texture, with layered backing vocals. Acoustic guitar and soft vocals set up an atmosphere for Inaugural which is shattered by an up-tempo phrase repeated on lead guitar and bass/drums, which feels not unlike the flamenco-rock of Carmen.
Apotheosis is supposed to be an argument, and the instrumentation reflects this, with a muffled piano battling (like an old silent movie score) against jarring reversed guitar chords. The track on its own is reasonably effective, although the timbres used are so completely different from those throughout the rest of the album that it does stick out like a sore thumb. The vocals are almost completely lost in the mix and do not convey the banishment resulting from the argument. It feels like it wants to be Robert Fripp's NY3, but lacks all the venom to carry it off.
Orn Deception is a long track which starts with a repetitive verse backed by meandering piano and untreated electric guitar, which eventually build to a crescendo, to be replaced by a mandolin-like guitar part and piano, supporting a stronger vocal than the start of the song. After 8 minutes the rock instruments return, accompanied this time by an effective sitar soloing over the top - providing a focus for the music (away from the rather dull vocals at this point). The track builds in tempo and volume until the end when the dying guitar feedback is joined by an indecipherable sample. Speeches of a Man starts off slowly with another airy vocal laid over layers of clean electric guitars. At the mid-point of the track, the band really kick in, with the unfortunate side-effect that the vocals are once again swamped and lost.
The final track of the album is a beautiful ballad - almost folky in instrumentation with acoustic guitar, melodica and a pared-down drum kit. The vocals also get another chance to shine through in this track, too, which is all too rare in this album as a whole. This is a 'feel good' track to finish off the album with. This ends halfway through the playing time, and after a few moments silence, a minute or two of synth washes and effects are tacked on at the end. I think the album should have finished without these items at the end, as they do nothing to add to the music, which had already come to a natural ending with the final ballad.
This is an album which is greater than the sum of its parts - the packaging and associated website both enhance the experience of the great low-budget space opera - text from a Sinclair Spectrum and graphics from a 16-bit console role-playing game - I almost expected to find a playable game on a CD-ROM section (but didn't). It is let down in places by vocals which simply do not fit the style of certain tracks, and are often lost in the mix. The band has a very distinctive sound - all the gear of a modern dance/club act, with the musicianship and creativity of a prog band. It may not appeal to lovers of 70's or 80's prog, but could well be a good indication of the direction of prog in the new Millennium.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10Jonathan Bisset
Earnest Woodall - Time To Think
I was fascinated by the accompanying letter with this CD in which the enclosed music was described as "Post Modern Electronic Ambient Jazz". So intrigued was I, that straight into the player went the disc. As the CD contains twenty tracks I felt assured that all would be revealed soon. Before delving into the material a little background on the man behind the music. Earnest Woodall is a native New Yorker, a composer, musician and producer with an impressive list of credits to his name. With thirteen independent releases, not including this one, Earnest has been actively producing his material since 1987 and has composed and written film scores since 1992.
Time to Think is a collection of tracks taken from four previous releases, Pictures of Mind (1999), 13 (2000), Unusual Characteristics (1999) and Strike, Light, Puff (1998). It would appear that each of the albums has it's own concept and the styles, although within certain bounds, have their own distinct musical individuality. Strike, Light, Puff for instance has a classical, orchestral nature to it and the keyboard sounds and arrangements excellently capture this. A more percussive slant is attributed to the recordings to be found on 13, again choice of keyboard sounds nicely cultivates the moods - tribal/industrial/ethnic. A darker album at times, although the contrasting string parts during Open Umbrella made this track one of the highlights for me. The recording is crystal clear and much detail has been afforded to the mixing of the tracks, although some of the orchestral tracks suffered a little from the clinical timbres inherent within digital sounds.
On the whole an enjoyable album, one that can be played in order to relax to, whilst retaining the depth to retain your interest. Earnest Woodall is a fine musician and his abilities in this area combined with his compositional and production skills, make this an above average release. This is not really my "cup of tea" and it would be fairly simple of me to place this along side other "ambient" releases to have graced DPRP recently, however, this would be wrong. Much thought, composition and meticulous editing have gone into these tracks and for those with penchant for ambient music might well look to this album for something a little different.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10