Reviews in this issue:
- Jadis - Photoplay (Duo Review)
- Dredg - Catch Without Arms
- Infront - Wordless
- Sonus Umbra - Digging For Zeroes
- MusicAEnchiriadiS – Music for Nikola Tesla
- OdraReg - God's Garden
- First Band From Outer Space - We’re Only In It For The Spacerock
- After The Fall – Knowledge
- Frederic Maillet - Inlandsis
Jadis - Photoplay
Tracklist: There’s A Light (4:56), What Goes Around (5:16), Asleep In My Hands (5:37), Standing Still (5:21), I Hear Your Voice (6:13), Make Me Move (5:31), Who I Am (6:06), Need To Breathe (4:49), Please Open Your Eyes (5:34), All You’ve Ever Known (6:40), Photoplay (4:20)
Tom De Val's Review
Jadis should really need little introduction in these pages, being ever-present on the prog scene for almost twenty years now, and having generated a decent fan-base in that time. Yet despite this they still seem to be stuck in the minor leagues, forever pigeon-holed with IQ (more due to sharing a couple of band members than anything else) and seemingly incapable of escaping from the large shadow cast by their (admittedly excellent) first album, More Than Meets The Eye. Personally I thought that the heavier direction pursued on 1997’s Somersault (made without John Jowitt and Martin Orford) worked well and was worth pursuing in the future; however this record was not welcomed by the majority of the fan-base, and since Jowitt and Orford returned to the fold Jadis seem to have settled into a bit of a comfort zone, releasing a couple of studio sets (2000’s Understand and 2003’s Fanatic) which, whilst enjoyable, hardly set the world alight.
Photoplay sees something of a continuation of Fanatic’s move towards more streamlined, AOR-flavoured material, whilst also injecting a slightly harder edge to the sound. The IQ comparison will still be made, but this time its’ probably more with the Paul Menel version of the band that existed in the late 80’s rather than the modern day version; other comparisons that come to mind are latter-day Asia and Calling All Stations-era Genesis.
Jadis main-man Gary Chandler can usually be relied upon to come up with at least a few gems per album, and Photoplay is no exception. There’s A Light is a great opener, a strong mid-tempo track with typically melodic soaring leads from Chandler, a convincing momentum and a solid chorus – classic Jadis in other words. Make Me Move balances a nicely up-beat verse with a more wistful chorus, and a great guitar crescendo finale reminiscent of the sort of thing you’d find on a Big Country record; Who I Am is solid pop-rock with a relaxed feel and passionate chorus, whilst All You’ve Ever Known is perhaps the song that most harks back to the band’s early days, moving from its patient introductory stages as a reflective ballad before erupting into a great instrumental section, with Chandler excelling as heavy riffs interchange with jangling guitars. The way the track gradually winds down from this high is typically skilfully executed.
The standard however is perhaps not as uniformly high as I would have hoped. The likes of Asleep In My Hands and What Goes Around boast some winning melodies, but have rather uncertain structures; likewise Standing Still, which builds well but doesn’t have the strong chorus the song would seem to require. I Hear Your Voice is the weakest track here, a rather bland up-tempo number with a forgettable AOR-style chorus. The closing title track is basically a solo guitar showcase for Chandler; it presumably aims to emulate the likes of Camel’s Ice, yet for some reason seems to lack the emotional resonance that Chandler usually produces with ease. A common problem throughout the album seems to be the extension of the songs beyond their natural life; perhaps some trimming would have resulted in a more effective and cohesive album.
Performance wise, this is typically strong; as might be expected, Chandler dominates the show, both with his exemplary guitar playing (his style is often compared to that of Andy Latimer) and with his passionate singing – for some reason this seems to be a love-hate thing, but I think his voice perfectly compliments the material, and he appears to have worked particularly hard on improving his range and depth on this album. Backing vocals and harmonies are stronger than usual, with touring partner Steve Thorne lending a hand on most of the songs. As usual in Jadis, Martin Orford’s keyboards take something of a back seat to the guitars, but he does get to shine with a lengthy organ solo on Asleep In My Hands and brings some church organ into play on Standing Still. Production is good, but the over-use of some rather dated techniques (drum loops, processed vocals) doesn’t always suit the songs.
To conclude, whilst Photoplay is perhaps not the return to More Than Meet The Eye-type form I might have hoped for, it’s not exactly a big disappointment either, and is overall a pleasingly solid album. Existing fans can purchase with confidence, whilst it’s not a bad place for newcomers to start either – although I’d point them towards Inside Out’s excellent re-release of More Than Meets The Eye as perhaps the ideal introduction to Jadis’ music.
Dave Baird's Review
This is the sixth studio album from Jadis but the first that I've heard, yes, I was a Jadis virgin. However, being a huge fan of IQ and knowing that half of Jadis' line-up comes from that venerable outfit, I thought I had at least some idea what to expect. Wrong! Other than perhaps the very recognisable bass of John Jowitt there's very little similarity indeed.
So, what do Jadis sound like? Well if this release is indicative then they are a far more commercially oriented band than I ever would have expected. Photoplay is made up of short four and five minute tracks with just two exceptions making it over six. Furthermore, ten of the eleven are songs with just one instrumental and to make things even worse, the songs have great catchy melodies, infectious rhythms, are well written, nicely produced and wouldn't be out of place playing on the radio. Can this really be a prog album? Well I say "yes", but only just.
These songs are progressive perhaps in the same way you'd say modern Rush is progressive. In fact in places they even sound a bit like Rush, especially in the up-tempo Asleep In My Hands and the more diverse Who I Am, the latter perhaps more from the obvious Alex Lifeson influence in Gary Chandler's playing. Elsewhere hints of Marillion may be heard, hardly surprising when you discover that there's been a long association with the two bands; after supporting on the Clutching At Straws tour, Steve Rothery produced their first recordings and their third album was released on Steve's own Dorian label. The guitar work of Francis Dunnery from It Bites also springs to mind as does U2 on occasion and all of these influences come together on the excellent Please Open Your Eyes along with wonderful melody and a Hogarth/Gabriel mix on the voice.
Gary seems to be a man of many musical talents, not only is he writing, arranging, producing and playing the guitar on these songs but he's also the lead singer and he has a wonderful voice. Perhaps the quality of the singing is most evident on the fourth track Standing Still - a funky little number with the voice taking softer tones, again reminiscent of a young Peter Gabriel with a soulful edge. After the opening bars the track explodes into soaring melodic guitar and at last I can hear some keyboards! I don't know if Martin Orford is not playing much on the CD, has been mixed down low or just that I was expecting more keyboard solos but overall he's clearly not fully there - whether this is because he was already on his way out of the band or just the way it has always been I couldn't really tell you. If you're looking for a lot of keyboards then this isn't an album for you.
If the keyboards are missing though they are made up for by the bass and drums. This is a great bass album - not in a show-off, flashy manner though, rather solid, punchy, groovy bass, driving the songs forward and underpinning the rhythm. John shines for me on this CD and he really is the star on I Hear Your Voice. This track also nicely highlights the drumming of Steve Christey - again solid, not crazy, solid. That's not to say the guy can't play, you can clearly hear he is technically gifted but he's choosing more for feel than flash with a nice groove.
My personal favourite on the album must be Make Me Move. The piece starts off with a real grungy guitar, almost a Soundgarden feel to it and then without warning there's a total change of pace into a break with the most beautiful melody, acoustic guitar and strings - this is basically repeated until the end of the track with the inclusion of some solo guitar. It's so nice to hear texture in songs and it is surely why you're reading this review on a prog site rather than hearing the song on the radio. Now, I do find this a little bizarre - why aren't Jadis known to millions? The songs on this CD are world-class and would appeal to a wider audience if they ever had the chance to hear them.
The album is closed out firstly by the longest piece All You've Ever Known. To be fair there are some more keyboards here but again they're in a supporting role with the guitar and voice of Gary to the fore. The opening three minutes are perhaps the most laid-back on the album until the tempo picks-up and we are into what is arguably the closet you are going to get to an a-typically progressive passage on the CD. John's bass is again on top form here before it winds-down into the closing title-track and instrumental, Photoplay. Here at last Martin gets the opportunity to get some sequences going, over which Gary plays some solo guitar (think Jeff Beck this time). I may be mistaken but I keep thinking I hear some references to the main melodies on the album here. Whatever, it is the one piece that doesn't really fit with the rest but it's a nice closer and change of pace.
As I said above, this really only just dips it's toe into the prog ocean, in fact it's diametrically opposite from the last CD review I did (Present) such is the wide scope of the genre. Although this CD doesn't automatically fall into my normal preference, the songs are very good and with the great voice, soaring melodic guitars and the thumping bass it is sufficiently different enough to provide a nice contrast to my usual listening. Well worth a listen for all.
Dredg - Catch Without Arms
Tracklist: Ode to the Sun (4:12), Bug Eyes (4:13), Catch Without Arms (4:11), Not That Simple (4:56), Zebraskin (3:26), The Tanbark is Hot Lava (3:45), Sang Real (4:29), Planting Seeds (4:12), Spitshine (3:34), Jamais Vu (4:56), Hung Over On A Tuesday (4:05), 12 Matroshka [The Ornament] (5:38)
Hailing from the West Coast of the United States, the unclassifiable Dredg has released their third album Catch Without Arms and made quite a fine effort of it. Falling somewhere between Incubus and a lighter 10 Years, with a touch of jazz and punk thrown in, these guys have made one of the all-around funniest albums I've run across all year. Gavin Hayes (vox, guitar), Mark Engles (guitar), Drew Roulette (bass), and Dino Campanella (drums) flow from nightclub jazz to neo-Prog rock to in-your-face punk rock effortlessly, running the gamut from sing-a-long ballads (for people who sing along to such songs) to candle-lit nostalgia trips to pure energetic rock.
While sometimes classified as a "metal" act, the eclectic Dredg rarely pulls off anything much heavier than the average jazz/fusion band (and the guitar tone reminds me more of a Gibson semi-hollow than anything with skulls and black paint). In fact, two of my favourite songs from this disc, Zebraskin and Jamais Vu, sound like something straight out of a smoky midnight bar. Other songs, such as Bug Eyes and Planting Seeds, bring to mind the more brilliant side of American alternative rock, and Ode to the Sun and Hung Over On A Tuesday bring in a dose of tasteful punk energy. The lo-fi Sang Real reminds me remarkably of the more introspective work of Blackfield, while the closer Matroshka sounds like a look in the mirror...viewed through a bowl of warm honey.
The band has remarkable composition skills, making every song interesting and enjoyable, something which is honestly missing from the majority of American "mainstream" music these days. What really makes Dredg shine, though, is their texturing. A little keyboard here, a couple of random sound effects there, and beautifully layered guitars make the listener feel like they're floating through this album rather than simply listening to it from outside. This is one of those albums you won't be able to put down - it just somehow feels like home, and it gets more comfortable with every listen.
Normally I would mention some complaints I have about the album here, but I honestly can't find any. These guys have created their own sound, and in doing so have crafted some of the most beautiful, engaging, and original music I've run across in a while. I personally recommend this album to anyone looking for something new and unique to listen to, even if it doesn't perfectly fit your tastes it certainly won't disappoint.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Infront - Wordless
It is amazing to think that less than a couple of decades ago, young Russian musicians would have been frowned upon, or worse, for even thinking about writing and playing 'Western' music. With the state-run Melodica label effectively controlling the music scene, many young artists were stifled and frustrated in their efforts. However, a lot can happen in 20 years and nowadays young bands, like Moscow's Infront, can help prove that music is truly an international language that transcends ideological, political and geographical barriers.
The band have been in existence for about five years having released News From The Other Side, an EP of demos (under the name Invisible Front), back in 2003. The appropriately titled Wordless is the first full length album by the band who, mysteriously always, even on their website, refer to themselves by their initials. So all that can be gleaned about the group is that at the time of recording the four band members were kA, dC, tU and kS who play guitars, more guitars, bass and drums. The quartet has recently expanded their instrumental sound by the addition of oA as a full time member, although he actually does appear as a guest on Wordless (and hence is credited under his full name of Oleg Anurin), adding keyboards and effects to three tracks, flute on one and arranging and conducting the brass section on another.
Unusually for a young group, the musicians do not set out to impress the listener with overtly complex arrangements and self-indulgent solos, the emphasis being placed more on trying to find ways of achieving non-verbal communication, aiming to create and sustain a feel throughout each composition. That is not to say that the group don't know how to rock out, tracks such as From Where The Wind Blows and, in particular 888 and RUNNN contain moments that shake the cobwebs from the eaves. The twin lead guitars bear resemblance to early Wishbone Ash with each instrument plotting its own course yet never straying far enough from the central theme to become antagonistic.
The group are also aware of the value of leaving space for the music to breath, fine examples being Corridor, in which the two guitars unite in harmony, and the slow burn of Chinese Butterfly which proves how effective applying a modicum of restraint can be. The oriental feel of this number entices the audience, craftily guiding the listener through a careful and gradual build where instruments are gently layered upon each other. The additional flute and keyboards add texture and although many bands would be tempted to end in an overblown climax, Infront have taken an entirely different approach, one that is, in equal parts, questioning and satisfying. Very unusual and very nice! The brass (trumpet and trombone) section on Autumn Velvet add an understated yet effective punch to a piece that, stylistically, provides a reflection of Djam Karet, a comparison that continues with RUNNN, although the two pieces are entirely different sonically.
Infront have produced an album that is mature beyond the experience of young band. A surprising number of people consider instrumental albums music to be poor cousins to song-based efforts. Wordless helps to prove how wrong such opinions can be.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sonus Umbra - Digging For Zeroes
Tracklist: Zero (2:03), Scream (2:53), Sleepwalkers (2:16), Children Of Cain (0:53), The Laughter Of The Dead (2:08), Foreshadows (2:16), Invisible World (4:44), Serial Grounds (1:46), Infestation (7:09), Spleen (2:54), Bloodstains In Paradise (5:59), Meme Puppet Waltz (3:12), Dead Numbers (1:53), Devil’s Promise (1:52), Aleph (3:28), The Great Fall Inwards (4:57), The Music Of The Primes (4:26), From The Ashes (0:54), Pariah (3:26), Infinity (2:10)
American outfit Sonus Umbra have been around on the prog scene for a few years now, and Digging For Zeroes is their third release. This time out they’ve gone for what almost every band in the genre seems to inevitably plump for at some time or another in their career – a concept album. Digging For Zeroes is effectively organised as one very lengthy piece of music, with each track segueing into the next, and several ‘songs’ lasting for barely a minute or two. Several key musical themes crop up at various times, giving the whole thing a sense of continuality. Band composer Luis Nasser clearly has a few demons to exorcise, as lyrically Digging For Zeroes is very dark, sombre and biting – appearing to document a character driven to madness and a killing spree by the degradation of the society in which they live.
Musically, Sonus Umbra cover quite a wide spectrum. I guess you could say that the main styles you’ll find on Digging For Zeroes are neo-Prog in the early Marillion/ Pendragon vein (the aforementioned Laughter Of The Dead, Bloodstains In Paradise, Music Of The Primes) and seventies-style hard rock with progressive touches, such as that played by the likes of Uriah Heep and Blue Oyster Cult (Invisible World even has a hint of Don’t Fear The Reaper in its main melody). This is rather a restricting definition however, especially as the music is liable to flip to something different in an instance – Invisible World for example incorporates a mid-section where keyboard player Pablo Garcia erupts into a Tony Banks-style classical-flavoured piano solo. Elsewhere, Dead Numbers is something of an 80’s style FM rock song, whilst the instrumental Meme Puppet Waltz, with its dominant acoustic flavour, has something of a folky feel. There are also a number of tracks which focus on obtaining a dark and sinister atmosphere - the opening Zero, with its pulsing bass, sparse piano and darkly intoned lyrics, the portentous Serial Grounds, which backs some dark atmospheric sonics with narration through a vocoder, and the second half of Laughter Of The Dead, which piles on the aggression and certainly makes the listener feel a little uneasy.
The strongest piece on the album for me is Infestation, which kicks off as an upbeat, down-and-dirty rocker (with some great use of the wah-wah pedal), before moving seamlessly into a sparser yet nicely dramatic section with piano and voice (reminiscent of Fugazi-era Marillion), gradually building in intensity as more instruments come in, leading in to a superb, emotion-packed lead guitar solo that brings us nicely back to the rock - great stuff.
In terms of musicianship, the members of Sonus Umbra clearly know their stuff, and as I’ve said handle quite a variety of styles with aplomb. On the vocal side, previous male singer Andres Aullet is here replaced by Jeff Laramee (who also handles the drums). Laramee’s deep voice, which is occasionally reminiscent of Fish, suits the material well, being particularly strong on the heavier songs. Lisa Francis (also of Kurgan’s Bane), who sang on Spiritual Vertigo, again shares some of the vocal duties and does a solid job, with her voice working best on the more balladic material. The production is generally fine, although I don’t really care for the drum sound (which I found slightly jarring) and I felt that the guitar sound is perhaps a bit rawer than need be for this sort of material.
In conclusion, Sonus Umbra have produced an enjoyable and varied album with Digging For Zeroes. As I’ve stated, the quality of both musicianship and song writing is pretty high, and as a whole the album does have something of a unifying feel as befits its conceptual status. There are a few weaker moments (particularly in the latter part of the album) and the thread of the concept gets lost here and there, but overall this is an enjoyable slice of prog rock.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
MusicAEnchiriadiS – Music for Nikola Tesla
Tracklist: Inside (5:25), Lightning (3:11), And . . . (4:25), Little Step (3:50), Terra! (5:00), Ich Meine (3:31), Lontano (7:19), Outside (4:58)
Musea Records’ promotional materials are often hyperbolic and sometimes inaccurate. But I think the material accompanying this CD is accurate when it says that “this album means to pay tribute to the countless inventions of the neglected Yugoslavian scientist in the field of electricity, among which prevails the alternating current motor.” I like to learn stuff as much as the next person (although I suspect that I learned about Tesla in school many years ago and have just forgotten), so that information is welcome to me. But, taking the claim at face value, I did a little research and discovered that Tesla is also responsible for devices for protection against lightning, for the bladeless turbine, and for the Tesla coil (well obviously!), among many other accomplishments. High time, then, for a progressive instrumental album to be dedicated to his achievements.
This album is the work of one man, Italian keyboardist Piergiorgio Ambrosi, former member of progressive group Montefeltro. Ambrosi not only composed and performed but also produced the entire work, which, to my ears, is very much a continuous suite with various movements. It’s marked also by a conscious (at least so it seems to me) reliance on Seventies-style synthesizers and electronic percussion – and that reliance serves Ambrosi very well, given his subject and intentions. The music is blippy and bleepy, marked by snappy electronic snares, nice repeated synthesized-string themes, and sweeping keyboard washes, all of them with a sort of “uplifting” sound, as befits a tribute album (if I may use that term in a sense different from its usual current use).
I guess I should be honest and say that, although I kind of like this album, I don’t think it’s a big success. I may well be wrong, but it seems to me to have one overriding fault: it’s portentous. That is, its aim and its intentions are perhaps a bit too grand for its execution. That’s in no way to impugn Ambrosi’s skill as composer or performer: these are interesting, effective pieces, each working on its own and as part of the whole. But there seems to me something missing – some emotional centre that’s never discovered. The grand keyboard sweeps, the impressive themes, the goal itself – to pay tribute in electronic music to a pioneer of electricity – are perhaps just a bit overblown. On the surface, all is well, at least for fans of this kind of music; but it ends up being somehow unsatisfying.
That said, I’m happy to praise Ambrosi for the many virtues apparent in the album. The greatest of those is one I mentioned in my last paragraph: each piece works on its own and also as part of the whole. It’s a completely unified album but doesn’t suffer overmuch from sameness. Furthermore, partly because of the interesting multi-layered nature of the compositions, the album’s never boring (a danger always lurking near an instrumental album). Ambrosi has the restraint, too, not to belabour his idea: the CD is record-album length, and (perhaps because of my age) I always think that the physical limitations that kept LPs to forty or forty-five minutes echoed the reasonable attention span of even a dedicated listener. This album doesn’t outstay its welcome.
To sum up: I like the album, as I said before; I’ve listened to it many times already, and not just because I was going to review it, and I expect I’ll continue to listen to it on and off. But I have to say that it doesn’t really stand out, doesn’t really make claims on our attention beyond the claims of countless other instrumental discs. I can’t imagine a fan of seventies synthesizer music being disappointed with the album, but neither can I imagine this album on its own winning new fans for that genre.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
OdraReg – God’s Garden
Tracklist: The Party Of The Planets (7:49), Innocent (6:12), Yv 005 Fly (7:52), Stars Stress (4:03), 43 Doors (9:24), The Nomads [a] Dust And Sand [b] Wisdom [c] Pray To Heaven (9:11), Angel’s Alarm (8:45), God’s Garden [a] Sabana & Tepuy [b] High & Wild [c] Back To Beginning (9:44), Wake Up (4:06)
Odrareg is a backwards rendition of the name Gerardo, and this CD is the work of Gerardo Ubieda – the drummer of Venezuelan prog veterans Tempano. His colleagues from Tempano all help out, as do Santos Palazzi (guitars), Saloman Lerner (keyboards), and Ricardo Tirado (bass). In addition, 43 Doors features Luis Blanco (trumpet) and the magnificently named Hector Bastardo (sax). Lizbeth & Karin Aguilar lend female voices to The Nomads.
Most of the tracks clock in between 7 and 9 minutes, with a couple of shorter pieces to fill out the CD’s generous running time of 67 minutes.
If you’re familiar with Tempano’s work, you should not be too surprised by the music on this CD, as it is largely similar in style to much of the parent band’s output. What might be surprising is the consistently high quality of the compositions, and the large variety of instrumental tones, and textures, that is, considering this is a drummer’s solo project! Gerardo is not content to string together simple structures as a backdrop to flashy drum solos, these are fully thought out compositions, each one teeming with interesting melodies, multi layered keyboards and guitars and creative percussion.
The music blends symphonic instrumental Prog with Jazzy diversions, ethnic twists, a smattering of the patent Neo sound, and some more experimental sections. Challenging in places, it never descends into seriously weird territory. The level of invention is pretty high, with the only real drawback being that some of the numbers change direction perhaps a little too often and too quickly for the listener to keep pace with.
I can’t say that any of the tracks particularly stand out, as most of them chop and change direction so frequently that there is always something delightful and surprising just around the corner. The CD does take a little time to warm up to, but has potential to prove a grower. Its quite refreshing not to have to say this CD sounds like ELP, Yes or Genesis for a change – pick it up if you fancy something slightly different, but still firmly in the progressive genre.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
First Band From Outer Space -
We’re Only In It For The Spacerock
Tracklist: Begin To Float [Intro] (4:43), Sannraijz (9:55), Sometimes Going Too Far Is the Only Way To Go (7:10), Sannraijz II (4:42), We’re Only in It For The Spacerock (20:16), Make Yourself Heard For The Sake Of The World (10:36)
The First Band from Outer Space hails from Gothenburg, Sweden, which explains why We’re Only In It For The Spacerock, FBfOS’ third album (and finely titled!) is released on the Scandinavian-centric Record Heaven label. I’ve never really listened to a bad Record Heaven release. Even when the style of the music isn’t quite my thing exactly, still, the product is always decent or better and Spacerock is no exception.
The band features (excluding guest musicians on, e.g., djembe and organ) “StarfighterCarl” on drums and percussion; “JohanFromSpace” on guitars, synths, and vocals; “SpaceAceFrippe” on bass (and the product of an apparent, unholy marriage between Ace Frehley and Robert Fripp!); and Moonbeam Josue on various flutes. FBfOS was formed in 2001 and the promo literature mentions space rock influences (Hawkwind and Pink Floyd), Swedish prog influences (November, Kebenekajse, and Trad Gras och Stenar (plus forgive the absence of diacritical marks!), and the influence of world music. Those sparking influences are all obvious on Spacerock: a dash of the cosmic, a pinch of the Nordic, and some spice from the more southerly climes, blended with a good blast of rocking improv frenzy.
The spacey sound effects are all pretty standard stuff, maybe updated for the contemporary listener, but in effect, nothing that hasn’t already been hear. I’m not a huge fan of space rock, notwithstanding a fondness for the adventurous nature of the music, so it’s hard for me to draw comparisons, but I’ve heard many of these gurgling, swirling, electro-beeping, drifty sounds on albums by Floyd, Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles, Gong, and Djam Karet. If you enjoy that type of sonic canvas and want more of the same paint, Spacerock is for you.
What saves the band from spacey overkill and sheer boorishness is the strong, rhythmic, propulsive rock ‘n’ roll fever on the actual tunes. This band swings and when it settles into a groove (e.g., the opening of Sannraijz), the result is forceful and sweeps you along. Then, the effects salt the track complementarily.
The vocals are typically Scandinavian, if I can be allowed an ethnic generality in this enlightened age: a little monotone, a little nasal, but vital. I tend to like the vocal deliveries on Record Heaven releases: maybe that’s just a Viking sympathy, eh? There’s not too much singing, really, so the vocals never risk interfering with a song’s mood.
Another element of the CD I can applaud is the contemporary rock sound wed to the psychedelicacies. On Sometimes Going Too Far Is the Only Way to Go, the pounds out a grunge/post-grunge riff, nasty, devilish, and reeking of, say, Stone Temple Pilots or Soundgarden. Personally, I thought the better material of the grunge era saved us all from the hell of Poison, Cinderella, Tesla, and Ratt, so I never mind another visit to that musical era. It’s a weird blend, perhaps, but it works.
I don’t want to detail Spacerock too explicitly, to be honest. If you know the genre of space rock at all, you know some of what’s offered by FBfOS. Yes, there are some modern twists, but you’ll recognize the terrain. It might be more crack-paced than LSD-paced, but it’s still recognizable. The musicianship is solid (especially the drum-work, which is stunning at times), the tunes are powerful and memorable, and the blend of hard-edged guitars with planetary influences never annoys. I can recommend this to all space-rock fans, and to fans of psychedelically-flavoured jam rock. I don’t think the “average” (!) prog fan with no true allegiance to space rock will get a charge out of this CD, but I’d say it’s worth a few spins and maybe will kick someone into an appreciation for a unique, heady musical style.
[A note about the quantitative rankings. It’s not that easy to assign a numeric grade to a musical effort. It’s probably difficult, too, for a reader to understand the significance of the ranking, not knowing the reviewer’s subjective scale. So, I’ll say something here about how I rank CDs. There is no such thing as a “0” and there is no such thing as a “10”. “0” means absolutely shitty with no redeeming quality at all, something that sucks so badly it shouldn’t have been made and shouldn’t be heard. “10” is the Shangri-La of recordings, the pinnacle, the apex, the Platonic Form of musical Goodness. Both obviously are archetypal and don’t exist except in dreams (and the “10” in some case exists in an artist’s overblown ego). A “1” stinks like skunk pee. A “3” is an erratic, or under-rehearsed, or lyrically silly, or poorly-recorded album with some distinguishing merit. A “5” is a solid but unexceptional album, e.g., Jethro Tull’s J-Tull dot com. A “7” is a very nice album with perhaps a weak tune or two or some other marginal, minor flaw. A “9” is a sharp little effort, indeed, say, a Revolver, or an OK Computer, or The Yes Album, or even Achtung Baby. FBfOS’ “6.5” means that the job was well done.]
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
After The Fall – Knowledge
Tracklist: Came The Healer (19:20), The Call (7:54), Motherland (20:43), Between Images Flesh And Shadows (2:49), Precariously Poised At The Precipice Of Pandemonium (7:35), Ode To Man (19:40)
After The Fall are a four-piece band that hail from Connecticut USA, and are not to be confused with the Australian rock group of the same name. They produce a traditional brand of progressive rock that will be instantly recognisable. Formed in 1986, the band released their first CD titled In A Safe Place in 1997, following two previous cassette only releases. These have subsequently been reissued as a single CD, followed three years later by 2001’s The Living Drum. As a live entity they have been active around New York and the north east of America with club appearances and the odd prog festival. The live work has obviously paid off, with their musicianship being clearly the most positive aspect of this fourth CD.
A glance at the track listing reveals that included within the extravagant 80 minutes of music there are three epic length tracks. A prog fans delight surely? Well, not quite. The first thing that struck me was the woolly sound, with acoustic instruments and vocals being the main casualty. True, this is an independent release, but in this digital age sonic clarity can normally be taken for granted. Secondly, the arrangements are often heavy handed with no sense of logical development. The albums main failing however is the weak material. The music is mostly unmemorable and void of any strong hooks. The song parts suffer the most, and they include some cringe making lyrics. In the bands favour, excellent musicianship allows them to paper over a few of the cracks, producing some intricate and entertaining instrumental sections.
Came The Healer is one of the albums stronger tracks, and makes a fine opener. Following a brief piano introduction, the band are fast off the starting blocks with spirited Steve Howe like guitar and solid support from organ and synth. The energy and drive from the rhythm section is evident, but where as the bass cuts through the sonic fog in true Chris Squire fashion, the drums sound flat and lifeless. The theatrical Italian prog style vocals suffer the same fate sounding hazy and distant. The acoustic backing is possibly 12-string, but the guitar sound is so thin it’s hard to say. A lengthy and darkly atmospheric instrumental section follows, with gritty bass and drums, and haunting Keith Emerson inspired keys. The electric guitar is at its best here, played with restraint and sounding suitably sinister. There’s drama in the vocals that follow, but they fail to compensate for the weak melody. The strong opening theme returns just in the nick of time with fluid guitar and keys interplay against a tricky bass line to close on a high note.
The Call is a well-intentioned memoriam to the events of 9/11, based around acoustic and classical guitars, vocal harmonies and piano. Sadly, in spite of the bands best efforts, it all sounds flat and uninvolving. The vocals sound like they’re coming from the next room, and with lines like “Some very bad men are at it again” maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Electric guitar makes a clumsy and predictable entrance towards the end of the song.
Motherland, the albums longest track is divided into five fragmented parts, and for this listener it proved to be a long haul. Part I is an AOR flavoured prog song, with an Asia like anthemic chorus but without the strong hooks. The synth fanfare of part II is indebted to ELP, as is part III an up-tempo synth and organ variation on Fanfare For The Common Man minus Copland’s famous theme, and with added guitar power chords. The bass and drums effect a reasonable Lake/Palmer impression doubling the keyboard line. Vocals return for part IV a laid-back song featuring harpsichord and unremarkable harmonies. A ponderous bass and Mellotron style keys section builds to the preachy mood of part V, complete with church bells, celestial organ and hymn like vocal. It’s so overdone that lines like “Now rejoice let the angels sing”, which work in the hands of someone like Neal Morse, lack all credibility here. Judgment is thrown completely out the window with an overblown guitar solo full of heavy metal clichés. Devoid of melodic originality, the solo quotes liberally from God Save The Queen and Rule Britannia (I kid you not)!
Between Images Flesh And Shadows, a title almost as long as the track itself is a classical guitar led song with CSN & Y style harmonies. They inject passion into the vocals, but a weak melody and uninspired lyrics is the songs undoing. The tongue twister, Precariously Poised At The Precipice Of Pandemonium opens with a Mike Portnoy style drum workout, which develops into the albums heaviest section. Crunching riffs and strident bass support a soaring lead guitar until things go awry with a harsh synth solo. The vocal harmony part has shades of Gentle Giant and Spock’s Beard, but without the same invention. The shrill guitar and digital synth punctuations are misjudged and feel totally out of place. Ode To Man is another multi-part track, sounding more cohesive and less disjointed this time round. This is a sunny and uplifting piece, driven by expansive keys and 12-string guitar, with lyrical bass work to the fore. The mood of the song has a Yes feel throughout, although the vocal is prone to melodrama. The art music style of the brooding symphonic section and the tranquil meditative passage that follows featuring ambient keys are both very effective. The song concludes on an optimistic note with rousing vocals backed by soaring Rick Wakeman like synth and lyrical Chris Squire style bass.
To the bands credit, the quality musicianship and array of instrumentation allows them to bring a variety of textures to the music. Ken Archer is a multi-talented keys player, whilst bassist and backing vocalist Jeff Brewer gives a virtuoso performance throughout. The guitarist and vocalist Mark Alden Benson displays a harder metallic rock style, but is equally adept with acoustic instruments. Rich Kornacki is a technically accomplished drummer, easily adapting his style to the prevailing mood and direction of the music.
On reflection, the album starts and finishes reasonably well; it’s what’s going on in between that’s the main problem. Brewer was responsible for composing Motherland; so clearly bass playing is his forte. Archer had a hand in both Came The Healer and Ode To Man, so a pointer for the future could be for the keyboardist to take a more active role in the song writing. They certainly need to think hard about the production. Music with this kind of density requires a more sympathetic approach. I’ll leave this parting thought. If the bands writing and recording strengths matched their abilities as musicians, then they could be a force to be reckoned with.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Frederic Maillet - Inlandsis
Tracklist: Part 1 (25:34), Part 2 (29:34)
Inlandsis is, I presume, the debut CD of Frederic Maillet, a young French synthesist. I couldn’t find much in the way of info on the web.
As a release on Musea’s Dreaming sub-label (which specialises in Electronic / New Age music), this CD should not hold any surprises. Musea’s info sheet points out Maillet’s love of the 70’s scene and offers Klaus Schulze and Ash Ra Tempel as pointers. I can’t say that I agree here, as the immediate and abiding impression is of Vangelis. Maillet has a similar love of gentle melodies and shimmering backdrops, recalling the Chariots Of Fire soundtrack and Oceanic. I haven’t heard Vangelis’s soundtrack to Antarctica, but I’d bet that Maillet has. Unfortunately, Maillet has quite a way to go before he scales the heights his mentor has reached. Listeners expecting the cosmic drifts and Teutonic weirdness of Schulze and Ash Ra are likely to be disappointed.
The CD consists of two long suites, though they could easily be divided into shorter tracks, as there are distinct sections to each piece, but the transitions are smoothly executed. For the most part, Maillet conjures up a suitably calm, glacial atmosphere, and the melodies are pleasant and engaging. Aside from a short section or two where a more discordant and rhythmic focus comes into play, these two pieces drift along nicely in a sweet, melodic haze. Regrettably, none of the melodic themes are particularly memorable, and though this is an enjoyable listen, I struggle to recall much of it shortly after listening. Addicts of Vangelis, and/or Electronic Music will probably glean more from this than I (who has only a marginal interest in the E M genre). On occasion, I do want to listen to this kind of thing, it can be very relaxing, and makes for good headphone stuff, but I can’t see myself choosing this over Vangelis.
Maillet is a proficient player and a promising composer. He probably just needs some more experience and time to find his own voice.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10