Reviews in this issue:
- Frost* - Milliontown
- Cosmos - Skygarden
- Martin Maheux Circle - Sibylle
- Ezra – Songs From Pennsylvania
- Mastermind - Broken [EP/Single]
- F/i - A Question For The Somnambulist
- Han Uil - Alone
Frost* - Milliontown
Tracklist: Hyperventilate (7:31), No Me No You (6:06), Snowman (3:55), The Other Me (4:51), Black Light Machine (10:07), Milliontown (26:35)
This is probably the first time that a review of a progressive rock album will not only name check pop artists like Atomic Kitten, Ronan Keating, Blue and Holly Vallance but also thank them! So what do all of those artists have in common (apart from holding no interest for the average prog rock fan)? The answer is Jem Godfrey whom can be held responsible for writing songs for all of them. Before the hate mail starts, it should be noted that Jem is actually a big progressive rock fan and as he himself has stated:
"After five years of song writing with three chords and lyrics that rhyme 'heart' with 'start', I had to give my brain some fresh air.
So with the money earned from his pop career he has formed the decidedly more progressive group Frost*.
No doubt Godfrey must know numerous studio and session musicians whom he could have approached to contribute to the album but he had other ideas:
"When I had decided to record a prog album, I went out an bought around 40 CDs by the leading bands from this genre over the last few years. One of these was the Kino album 'Picture'. So I sent an e-mail to John Mitchell and asked him whether he'd be interested in playing guitar on my album. It was a similar case with Andy Edwards and John Jowitt of IQ. So I ended up with three of the best musicians from the UK prog scene in my band!"
The album starts with a very gentle and melodic piano introduction which breaks into the main riff gathering in tempo and volume. Eventually the band kicks in with Mitchell's guitar taking up the riff. A veritable maelstrom ensues with all the band kicking forth. A brief piano and guitar respite before the band join in again. Not sure about the track being called Hyperventilate, maybe "Hyperactive" would have been more appropriate for the high energy sections. I found some of Mitchell's guitar histrionics a bit over the top but this was tempered by some lovely keyboard melodies by Godfrey, and some great drumming by Edwards (a great addition to the prog scene as anyone who has seen him with IQ will testify). A statement of intent, unashamedly on the heavy side of prog, it is a great intro to the album.
A heavy mood continues on No Me No You, an engaging number that introduces Godfrey's vocals, which are pretty good, if a little down in the mix. He certainly has got away from the usually quite puerile pop lyrics and has included some decent harmony lines. During the middle section things get a bit weird with backing tapes (also present on the intro) and this to me seems a bit superfluous but is not too much of a distraction. Snowman takes the tempo down resulting in a very effective ballad. Again the vocals are a bit too low and seem to have been treated in places, as on a lot of other places throughout the album. Will be interesting to hear how they song in the live context. Overall an infective number that impresses by its simplicity.
The Other Me has an underlying keyboard intro reminiscent of Cars by Gary Numan (honest) buried behind a wall of bass. Getting quite funky in places (like a modern Funkadelic). I can also hear shades of Porcupine Tree in places (but that may just be me). Black Light Machine takes the style of early Geoff Mann Wobbly Music with the echoed guitar lines. The song features a variety of styles and tempos and is probably the track that will most easily gel with prog fans on first listen. Finally, the title track and obligatory epic. Lyrically based on the book The Apprentice by Gordon Houghton (all you need to know from me is the main character is apprenticed to Death, the Grim Reaper!). Although not up there with the classic epic songs, it is a good enough effort for a new band. At time it can come across as rather too one dimensional, and although there are sections of varying tempo, a greater degree of light and shade would have been welcome. Having said that the ending is very dramatic and quite exhausting to listen to, let alone play. Hats off to Andy Edwards again for a fine and inventive performance.
So overall verdict? Certainly Frost* have come up with something that scores high on the originality front whilst remaining a progressive album. Milliontown proves there is nothing wrong in combining pop sensibilities (which is not to say you will find anything remotely like Godfrey's more mainstream compositions on the album) with prog. Still, we should all take heed, next time an annoying pop song is released by some vapid and talent less TV starlet be careful contemplating out loud as to "who wrote this shit?", it might just be a prog rock star of the future!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Cosmos - Skygarden
Tracklist: Intro (2:35), In The Dark Of The Night (3:35), Electronical Rival (7:11), Then Just Call Me (4:14), The Final Path (5:21), Eclipse Of The Sun (7:52), Internal Voices (7:45), I Stayed Just Because Of You (3:49), Tell Me (5:39), Where Tanks Are Rolling Today (6:34), Father (3:11), Moments (5:47)
In Germany there is a band named RPWL which is very much influenced by Pink Floyd and now we have a Swiss symphonic rock band that leans heavily on the legacy of Floyd. Cosmos consists of four musicians and a female vocalist. Keyboard player Daniel Eggenberger and guitar player Olivier Maier are the main composers and especially Maier’s guitar work sounds almost like a second David Gilmour. The band have already made an album a couple of years ago, but unfortunately that was not a great success, but as they changed their musical style to more Floyd-minded music their sound improved a lot. Just listen to the intro of this album and you will certainly think of Shine On You Crazy Diamond once in a while. Even the vocals of Cosmos sound like Floyd which you can certainly hear in a song like In The Dark Of The Night.
Electronical Rival features melodic resemblances with Welcome To The Machine, but it is also “stuffed” with Gilmour-like solos and even a talk box guitar solo bringing back memories of good old Peter Frampton. Then Just Call Me is a ballad-like song with a heavenly guitar intro and a melody that shows significant influences of RPWL. The absolute highlight of this album is the instrumental Eclipse Of The Sun which features a “Kayleigh”- riff and a masterful guitar solo which Gilmour could not do better. Internal Voices sounds rather like Camel, with a funky rhythm, great guitar work and an amazing howling keyboard solo.
Cosmos prove on this CD that they have a great musical potential and although they sound a bit too much like Floyd to me, I would not call them copycats. Cosmos definitely have created a very own musical character and face, so who needs a Pink Floyd reunion now that we have Cosmos??? A must for every Floyd fan!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Martin Maheux Circle - Sibylle
Tracklist: Tergiversation (8:55), Mauvais Cirque (5:07), Aller Simple (15:02), Metamorphose (13:19), La Danse des Cadavres (7:43), Resignation (8:05)
To start, I’ll say openly that the Martin Maheux Circle’s (MMCircle) Sibylle is not a progressive rock album. It is instead an experiment in combining motifs and arrangements from the worlds of jazz (free and hard bop) and classical music (especially string quartet chamber music). I’m not sure that the music is very progressive; this experiment has been successfully handled in the past (Brubeck’s Time Out, for example). But it is a decent effort and might appeal to fans of, say, Univers Zero and Present, who tend to like the incorporation of minor-key classical music arrangements into a darker prog aesthetic.
MMCircle was formed by drummer Martin Maheux in 2001 as he worked on his solo album Physics Of Light. (Mr. Maheux is otherwise the drummer for the Canadian fusion outfit Spaced Out.) The band features both a jazz quartet and a string quartet. Collectively the members are Martine Gaumond (viola); Sarah Ouellet (violin); Catherine Lesaulnier (cello); Jeremie Cloutier (“ET,” in the CD insert, which is French and which I can’t translate); Frederic Grenier (string bass); Ivanoe Jolicoeur (trumpet and flugelhorn); Eric St-Jean (piano); and Martin Maheux (drums). Sibylle is the ensemble’s sophomore outing.
The CD consistently showcases interesting juxtapositions of the more sombre chamber music mood with a sprightly jazz bounce. There are a few instances where the track is simply an arrangement for strings but the majority of the music blends the two styles well enough. When the strings serve for coloration, they are emotive and suggestive, lending creepiness here and mournfulness there. There isn’t a great deal of variation between the songs, though, which is one of the CD’s failings: there is too much homogeneity on Sibylle to make it a hallmark of any kind. Certain tracks are very appealing: Mauvais Cirque, on which the string players pluck away to deliver a chamber funk that is bizarre but intriguing; Aller Simple, upon which the jazz quartet offers a smoky lounge delivery set over some sharp, forceful string accents; and Tergiversation, which moves nimbly from free jazz-lite (minus annoying discord) into a spooky string passage and then back again.
All-in-all, if it’s a little bland and repetitive, Sibylle is still good. Mr. Maheux isn’t an innovative percussionist but he’s clever and tactful. I enjoyed Mr. Jolicoeur’s contribution very much, especially on Tergiversation and Metamorphose. As a unit, MMCircle is balanced, disciplined, and tempered. There’s not much bombast and there is an airiness and roominess to the music that is comfortable.
If you are a strong fan of guitar-led prog, or vocal songs, or more pop/rock-oriented material, Sibylle won’t do much for you. But if you, like me, are fond of the degree to which European classical music and American jazz both have footholds in the progressive rock tradition, and you sometimes can live without guitar solos and lyrics, then give Sibylle a try. It’s a nice little changeup pitch for the aurally jaded.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Ezra – Songs From Pennsylvania
Tracklist: A Little Bit More (5:30), Everyday (6:33), Summer Again (8:15), Underground (5:31), Chances (11:36), Lazy (6:45), Alive (8:15)
Welsh outfit Ezra, although possibly a new name to many (including myself), are not actually a new band, having released a couple of albums on the Cyclops label during the 1990’s. This is however their first release of the new millennium, and sees a move to the F2 Label, also home to Magenta. The connection doesn’t end there, as Magenta’s Rob Reed was once in the band and was involved in the engineering and mixing of the record. Musically, however, it is a different kettle of fish.
Ezra seem to be described as a progressive rock band, but to be honest the progressive element, at least in terms of song structure etc., is not that high. It is perhaps more the sound that the band produce, coupled with the Nick Barrett-esque lead guitar playing of main man Andy Edwards, that will no doubt lead them to be compared to contemporaries such as Grey Lady Down (RIP), Credo and Primitive Instinct.
The vibe created on Songs From Pennsylvania is generally quite laid back and mellow, with liberal use of Edwards’ soaring leads, especially prevalent on the likes of Summer Again, which has a warm, bluesy feel perfectly evocative of the time of year it represents, and Chances. The pace does pick up sporadically; the most successful of the up-tempo songs is opener A Little Bit More, which is decent melodic pop rock with a catchy chorus and a nicely warm, upbeat vibe (enhanced by use of organ); the equally up-tempo Underground however rather suffers from some old fogey-ish lyrics about how great music from the past was compared to the present, and even how no decent music is available anymore – a quick scout around the DPRP’s reviews section should prove that this is far from being the case!
The major downfall of the album is probably the fact that the songs are rather overstretched in terms of length which, given the lack of complex song structures and the aforementioned mid-paced nature of much of the set, leads to a feeling of samey-ness which means the attention starts to waiver around the halfway point. In addition, whilst there’s some good harmony work on the album, the lead vocals (courtesy of Edwards) are not the strongest you’ll hear, and thus fail to carry the weaker material (such as the rather aimless closer Lazy) over the finishing line.
Overall then, this is a reasonable if hardly essential album of pop/ rock with a progressive flavour, which may find favour with fans of bands mentioned at the start of this review, but to be honest is unlikely to get too many repeat plays on my own CD player.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Mastermind - Broken [EP]
Tracklist: Broken (4:22), Break Me Down (3:31), Weak & Powerless (5:08), The Queen Of Sheba (9:02), William Tell Overture (3:14), A Million Miles Away (8:02), I'm So Glad (5:14), Broken (extended mix) (5:35)
At the first listening I wondered why this disc had landed on the DPRP desk, since it hardly qualifies as progressive rock in the sense we define it. But listening to it more carefully I noticed a few progressive elements in it here and there, so let's spend a brief review on it anyway.
Mastermind describes its own music as 'post modern progressive blues metal' which indeed mostly covers it, although I would replace 'metal' with 'rock'. A reference mentioned is "Evanescence meets Metallica via Mahavishnu", a description that needs some creative capacity to define it for yourself. And I must say I can't quite relate to this reference description anyway; instead of Metallica I would rather mention Lana Lane and instead of the far fetched Mahavishnu I think Cream would be more in place.
This American band already released their first album in 1990 and consists of the founding brothers Bill and Rich Berends, on guitar/vocals and drums and Tracy McShane on vocals and Laura Johnson on bass. For their 1998 album Excelsior! they were enforced by Swedish keyboard wiz Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen, Stratovarius) who clearly increased the prog level of Mastermind's music. And now here's this combined CD single and EP, the first official release in five years, preparing us for the next album to be released later this year.
The disc actually consists of a 2 track single Broken/Break Me Down both from the forthcoming album and a 6 track EP that features 2 covers, 3 live tracks and an extended mix of the new single Broken. Together this disc offers more music than some regular full albums, so that's another reason to spend some words on it here.
The most important track on this CD is obviously the first and last one, Broken, a teaser for the forthcoming studio album. The contribution of Jens Johansson (for the third time) is directly noticeable by the keyboard intro that by the way for the first few seconds very strongly resembles the intro of the Rush song Tom Sawyer, just the underlying drums differ. But after that short instance the song progresses in a total different direction and turns out to be a quite heavily slow rhythm based song with a catchy tune. If this kind of music wasn't so ignored by the general audience and radio stations it could easily have become a major hit! The heavy steady bass, that can almost be felt, does bring up some memories of the fabulous Led Zeppelin song Kashmir. But for the rest it certainly not resembles that classic song and the clear vocals of Tracy contrast very fine with the heavy bass line and her more powerful and rougher outbursts fit the song well. It's without any doubt the most progressive song on the whole disc and it's also the only track on which Jens plays along. If the whole new album sounds as good as this song it might be pretty interesting.
But the single B-side Break Me Down, also from the forthcoming album, already ruins my hopes for that a bit since it's a more standard heavy rock song with just a few remarkable aspects and has a refrain that doesn't lay comfortably in the ear.
The first track from the EP is, unique to this disc, a cover of the A Perfect Circle song Weak & Powerless, from their excellent album Thirteenth Step. That's not so surprising since some references with this band can also be made, mainly in respect to the heavy bass driven aspect. Mastermind's version is less dark, doomy and loomy and more rockier.
The next 3 songs are recorded during a rehearsal in the summer of 2005 and give a good impression what to expect when hearing Mastermind live. Especially The Queen Of Sheba is an excellent showcase of the musical abilities of the band that obviously excel best when playing live. William Tell Overture is clearly another guitar based and much heavier and faster interpretation of the classic composition by Rossini; especially enjoyable for all guitar freaks.
A Million Miles Away again shows that the main direction this band operates in is the bit bluesy, guitar based heavy rock, not really metal and the intro of Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love played at the end of this song emphasizes that as well. And since they're good at it I agree with their own statement they can play, although I don't share their opinion that this is 'unlike most new bands'. I'm So Glad is another cover, this time of the pre-war song by Delta blues singer Skip James. Mastermind honours his original version by starting their version with a fragment of the ancient and crackling original version. Both Cream and Deep Purple also covered this song many decades ago, both for their debut album and to be honest I still prefer Deep Purple's version from all with its great prelude. But Mastermind did make an interesting version out of it, much heavier and vivid than all mentioned predecessors, but still with respect to the rough feeling of the original and with the addition of the female vocals of Tracy it stands well on its own.
The extended mix of Broken does not differ much form the normal version and was mainly included to remind you the coming album is the main thrust of this EP
A release date for the new album called Insomnia is not published yet, but although this CD single/EP should prepare us for that I actually still don't know what to expect from it. Judging only from this disc, being not familiar with their other work, I wonder if it'll be a more progressive CD with some considerable contributions by Jens Johansson or more a bluesy rock CD with a slight prog twitch as seems to be more their trademark and strong point. This release on its own is more enjoyable for the fans of the latter.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
F/i - A Question For The Somnambulist
Tracklist: Uber-Wizards Of The 88th Meridian, Hit The Kill Switch, Eugene, Keep The Third Eye Open, Surgical Procedures On The Ship, Using Enemy Weapons, No Pepsi In Kabul, Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Daisy Cutter, A Question For The Somnambulist, The Hot Shop
Well, it’s trippy, trippy, trippy…but it’s pretty standard fare.
F/i was formed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the 1980s and crafted a sound that is one part space rock, one part German avant garde, and one part industrial electronica. The band also doesn’t shy away from early Floydian psychedelia, the heavy guitar of Steppenwolf and Blue Cheer, and ambient hypnotics. In short: feed your head with F/i.
A Question For The Somnambulist was originally released in 2003 and is enjoying a reissue (in the Strange Attactors Resurrection Series) this year. The band Mer (“eecki (guitars). They are sometimes joinedy Dr. Mabuse on guitarsynth and clarinet. As well, track 9 features an entirely different lineup: Mr. Grosse is out, replaced by Rick Hake (drums) and John Helwig (bass).
Generally, if you have a preference for late 60s/early 70s freakout acid- and space-rock, and don’t mind the metallic grind of, say, Black Sabbath or Blue Oyster Cult, then F/i could be your next best find.
It wasn’t mine, though. Now, that’s not too say that A Question For The Somnambulist isn’t a fine example of the space-rock genre; it probably is just that. But, I’m not terribly interested in the genre (I dislike Hawkwind and most early Pink Floyd) because it (a) is exceedingly repetitious in its song structures; and (b) includes a lot of arbitrary noise. Both problems exist on A Question For The Somnambulist.
A few of tracks were interesting. Using Enemy Weapons had a nifty Sabbath (circa Iron Man) meets anime feel that made me smile. And No Pepsi In Kabul inflicts a bit of Asiatic soul into the typical electronic surge of space rock (somewhat in a George Harrison Wonderwall vein). Uber Wizards Of The 88th Meridian (which is possibly the best song title I’m going to read on a CD this year) even showcases a few Robbie Krieger Asian halftone licks that worked well. Some of the other tracks had highlights, whether it was a similarity to Ozric Tentacles and Djam Karet, or an eerie echoing of John Carpenter’s soundtrack work.
But mostly, this CD suffers from blandness. Once the groove is set, that’s it, there’s no variation except in some of the noisy accompaniment. A couple of the slower, more mellow grooves were decently laid down but, again, they stalled in a repetitive loop. I guess that’s what space rock does but it’s kind of lame.
In the end, I’d rename this CD A “Cure” For The Somnambulist because I could never get through the whole thing without dozing, and that indicates an uninspiring collection of material. If you absolutely love space rock and need more, F/i won’t kill you. But there’s nothing novel here and there’s nothing noteworthy.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Han Uil - Alone
Tracklist: It’s Alright You Love Me (6:33), Alone On The Rack (5:29), The Sad Old Rusty Flute (2:11), The Afflicted (7:30), Pretty Darling (2:35), The Boy (5:04), Just Good Friends (5:58), Silvia (2:42), Loneliness (3:38)
This debut album by the Dutch singer/songwriter Han Uil is far too soft and too mellow for me. I truly miss a sparkling guitar solo, a decent rock riff, or some howling keyboard passages. Han Uil used to be part of the Dutch symphonic rock band Antares and he also played in the grunge rock band Vertical Reality as well in the rock band called The Lounge. This album however is a solo project of Han Uil on which he is very much inspired by Peter Hammill and Nick Cave. The song Just Good Friends is of course a Peter Hammill cover and as you all know how I feel about covers, I will not say anything about this song; my lips are sealed ...
The album starts with the rather uninspiring It’s Alright You Love Me, a song filled with piano, acoustic guitar parts and most of the time rather annoying whispering vocals. Alone On The Rack features a rather funky melody with a sheer poor, shallow production, a “catchy” chorus, and a rather cool guitar solo. Having said this, Han Uil goes on playing boring acoustic songs like The Sad Old Rusty Flute, Pretty Darling, The Boy and Loneliness.
The longest track on the album, The Afflicted, features at least two more or less interesting guitar solos, but the melody is sheer dull and almost without variety. This song kind of reminds me really old Pink Floyd songs, mostly because of the rather depressive, psychedelic atmosphere. Best song without any doubt is the instrumental track Silvia, it has a nice melody and here Han proves that he can play some really dreamy, spacy guitar stuff.
Conclusion: only for singer/songwriter die hards and I really beg to differ if this is “progressive” music, but again, maybe I am wrong, again ?????????????
Conclusion: 5 out of 10