Reviews in this issue:
- Travis & Fripp - Thread
- Hawklords - 25 Years On
- Trettioåriga Kriget - War Years
- Australis - The Gates Of Reality
- Nemo - Barbares
- Zingale - The Bright Side
- Robin Taylor – Isle Of Black
- Aegis Integer - Sand Timer
- Didier Bardin - Le Pouvoir Des Pierres
- Alitheia - Chthonick
Travis & Fripp - Thread
Tracklist: Land Beyond The Forest (4:23), The Apparent Chaos Of Blue (8:50), As Snow Falls (14:00), Before Then (6:22), One Whirl (2:39), The Silence Beneath (8:36), Curious Liquids (3:14), Then Unspoken (5:22), Pastorale (10:40)
Throughout his career King Crimson guitar legend Robert Fripp has collaborated with many renowned musicians, always producing interesting and often breathtaking results. His jagged and fiery soloing has influenced many and his compositions regularly test what is possible within the rock music format. Saxophonist Theo Travis’ name may not be immediately recognisable to many but his virtuosity and soulful tone has placed him in high regard within jazz circles since his emergence in the early 1990s and recently he has become known to prog audiences through replacing David Jackson in The Tangent, being a member of Soft Machine Legacy with John Etheridge and Hugh Hopper, and playing regularly with Gong.
However, those drooling at the thought of a progmungous guitar/sax thrash-fest will be less than delighted with this disc. Fripp’s Soundscapes digital effects system, developed from the earlier Frippertronics analogue tape-loop setup which emerged from his collaborations with Brian Eno in the 1970s, has produced some beautiful and moving solo pieces and has now been successfully integrated into his rock performances. The advent of new technology in the last ten years has seen the concept develop in leaps and bounds into a thing of beauty and resonance, capable of unsettling moments and inspired beauty with the capacity to move from the tiny nuance to force of nature and all points in between. Recent forays’ playing solo soundscapes in places of worship have also influenced his work and there is a palpable feeling of space and contemplation in this album that draws the listener in. Here they are melded with predominantly alto-flute, some soprano saxophone being added here and there, to produce a lilting and atmospheric hour with no rhythmic pulse which is in no way either New Age or relaxing and it would be lazy to describe it as such. The music is dark and sinister with bright stabs of beauty and emotion. Ethereal moments come and go interspersed with disturbing passages that often completely change the feel of the pieces as they progress. It may be Ambient in many respects but this is music that screams for attention and wouldn’t be happy with merely being background music at a dinner party.
The playing is perfection in its pace and the choices made, the wind work certainly adding to the soundscaping and giving it an extra sheen and a human face, moving it away from the Electronica tag it often receives, the work of the two men complementing each other beautifully. There is soloing but at a very low-key level, the whole being more comparable to a conversation between two skilled and experienced musicians offering each other respect and looking for new ways of expressing themselves. Fripp’s guitar seldom sounds like one being treated to make it sound like whatever he thinks it should at a given time, also generally avoiding resemblances to other conventional instrument and obvious synth sounds.
The basic tracks were recorded live in the studio in January 2007 by David Singleton with additional flute added in August of the same year and “editing, treatments and mix” provided by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, Travis handling production duties himself. An individual track breakdown is pretty superfluous and won’t add much to the understanding of the reader. The album opens with a sense of foreboding and mystery, the soundscaping intertwining with flute and a brief interlude of what could be called “proper” guitar. As is typical of Fripp’s work this is not a joyful listen and there are many unsettling elements but it still offers uplifting vistas that loop in a slow and languid way adding to the otherworldliness of the music and providing a drone effect that draws the listener in. The phrases chosen by the players add to the off-kilter sense of insecurity but always seem right as looped effects fluctuate and repeat, moving the canvas upon which the lead instruments paint, creating a woozy but graceful effect. Travis occasionally offers Indian references in his flute work, passages appearing, changing and drifting away, his playing style often bringing to mind Jan Garbarek and the expressive improvisations of works such as his Officium collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble.
Elsewhere Before Then takes things in a different direction with bell-like effects chiming away in a more percussive way than elsewhere on the album. A mournful flute enters and is joined by guitar to produce a swirling effect with all the elements seemingly spiralling upward, calm returning with a sparse duet. The Silence Beneath offers sounds that are almost reminiscent of Vangelis’ synths, a strange turn of events, and Curious Liquids features looped flute to mesmerizing effect with guitar and sax dancing over it, bass effects reminiscent of church organ. Then Unspoken features a couple of moving Fripp solos, the contribution of the flute being initially distorted before returning with a mixture of Indian and jazz styles.
There are no grandstanding solos here, the whole being more about a coming together and complimenting of each players’ work, listening, understanding and responding in kind with subtle variations; a conversation without words. The wind instruments lift the soundscapes to a new place. There is a sense of stillness and more space between the notes than is actually there, the effect being one of understatement. This is the work of musicians who understand the importance of not merely the replication of notes on a chart, more an exchange of mood, feeling and emotion. The two are planning a special one-off performance of this work as part of the Coventry Jazz Festival in May and seeing this material played in a live setting should be a very rewarding experience. There is much here to enjoy, simply let it wash over you.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Hawklords - 25 Years On
CD 1 PSI Power (6:05), Freefall (4:14), Automoton (1:12), 25 Years (4:35), Flying Doctor (5:36), The Only Ones (4:16), (Only) The Dead Dreams Of The Cold War Kid (3:49), The Age Of The Micro Man (3:35), PSI Power [Single Version] (4:26), Death Trap [Single Mix] (3:52), 25 Years [Single Mix] (3:31)
CD 2 Over The Top (7:51), Magnu (3:12), Angels Of Life (1:11), Freefall (7:57), Death Trap (4:30), The Only Ones [Acoustic Demo] (4:38), (Only) The Dead Dreams Of The Cold War Kid [Demo] (3:31), Flying Doctor [Live Studio Rehearsal] (5:38), 25 Years [Take 1] (8:01), Assassination (3:57), Freefall [Take Two] (5:29), (Only) The Dead Dreams Of The Cold War Kid [Take Two] (3:16), The Age Of The Micro Man [Take One] (5:45), Automoton [Full Version] (2:33), Digger Jam (2:39)
Anyone new to Hawkwind is bound to be confused by the myriad of releases put out in their name. Unsurprising really, since the band's history does not really follow a logical path with members coming and going, different names being adopted and albums being issued in an order that does not reflect their sequence of recording. One of these albums is the sole Hawklords album from October 1978. At the time of its release there was some confusion as if the 'Lords were an off-shoot of Hawkwind, a totally new band or a continuation of the old one under a different name. The music was certainly different from what had gone before, although musical diversity had already been explored through the albums Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music (1976) and Quark, Strangeness And Charm (1977). The planned follow-up, recorded on tour at the end of 1977 and in the studio in January 1978, was, temporarily, left unreleased when following a US tour the band disintegrated with Dave Brock famously selling his guitar to a fan. One of the reasons for the change of name was the desire of the band's two main men, Brock and singer/lyricist Robert Calvert to break free from their management contract and start all over again. Initially, it wasn't much of a change in personnel as Hawkwind drummer Simon King and violinist Simon House attended the initial sessions, accompanied by new boys Harvey Bainbridge on bass and Steve Swindells on keyboards. As Calvert, in particular, was eager for the 'new' band to be more of a departure, the two Simon's contributions were minimal, with drummer King being replaced by Bainbridge's ex-band mate Martin Griffin. Not that either Bainbridge or Griffin were complete strangers to Brock and Calvert as their old band Ark had backed them at the Stonehenge Festival in 1976 and a couple of times in 1977, under the name The Sonic Assassins. However, for the purpose of this release that will have to wait until CD two.
The first CD of this impeccable researched and presented reissue is the entire studio output of The Hawklords. The album has, for the first time, been remixed from the original master tapes and sounds wonderful. The music itself has aged very well, with some of the most enduring Brock/Calvert pieces, included within its grooves. Two of the most immediate tracks are PSI Power and the title track 25 Years; hardly a coincidence that both were issued as singles. Both songs are classics and it is worth buying the album for these two tracks alone. But there is much more. Freefall remained a staple of the bands set for many years while Flying Doctor introduced an element of humour into the proceedings yet somehow managing to avoid being a comic, throw-away song. Calvert's (Only) The Dead Dreams Of The Cold War Kid displays some rampant paranoia about the spirit of the age, and possibly a reflection of his own mental state at that time. The Only Ones and The Age Of The Micro Man are both more laid back numbers and, coincidentally, are the only two tracks that feature Simon House's violin playing. That only leaves the brief electronic Automoton, with Brock playing the synths, that not only fits in with the rest of the album but also provides a linkage to the short synth-based numbers performed by Hawkwind in their prime. Added as bonus tracks to the first CD are the two sides of the single that was released on the same day as the album, a shortened version of PSI Power which was backed by Death Trap the only surviving number from the January 1978 Hawkwind sessions, and the second single, a remix of 25 Years, that was released in May 1979.
It is the second compact disc that holds the treasures for the Hawkfan starting with five live tracks from the 23rd December 1977 concert at Queens Hall, Barnstable, by The Sonic Assassins. Calvert was only persuaded at the last minute to perform (he had pulled out the day before the concert as he thought the band were under-rehearsed) but still manages to pull things together improvising lyrics over a jam (Over The Top) and also making up the words to Freefall, a riff that Bainbridge had been playing around with in Ark. Dipping back into the past, the group perform a competent Magnu and also premiere two numbers that were yet to be recorded, Death Trap and a short preview of Angels Of Life a song that was not released for another four years. The remaining tracks are all culled from the session tapes and give an insight into the creative process that took place in the studio. The demo of The Only Ones with just Brock on acoustic guitar and Calvert on vocals gives a whole new ambience to the song, even though it is evident at this stage that Brock was still formulating ideas for the middle eight. There are two version of (Only) The Dead Dreams Of The Cold War Kid, the first a demo with Calvert and Brock both playing guitar accompanied by Bainbridge on bass. The second is take two from the recording sessions with Simon King and Steve Swindells present and, surprisingly, Brock absent (he didn't play on the final version either). The second take is still quite a way from the finished article but shows that they were getting the ideas sorted for what would, and wouldn't, work in the context of the song. A live in the studio rehearsal of Flying Doctor has all the power of the original, although Calvert's Australian accent leaves quite a bit to be desired! The first take of 25 Years is nearly twice as long as the album version featuring as it does a far amount of jamming around the central riff. Surprisingly the lead vocals in the first part of the song sound pretty complete although the backing vocals are still being formulated. Midway through, Swindells seems to remember he has an organ and when that is introduced we break into more familiar territory. Always a favourite of mine, the version is a sheer delight.
Automoton and Assassination are of a similar ilk, dominated by synthesisers played by both Brock and Calvert. The 'full' version of Automoton shows why the group were wise to cut the number in half for inclusion on the album as it is just repetition, and Assassination will be familiar to ardent fans as it was re-recorded in 1982 and included on the Church Of Hawkwind album under the new title Some People Never Die. The early version of Freefall is also another great find, with Swindells contribution more prominent in the instrumental intro and outro with the middle vocal section having a generally more punkier vibe courtesy of some frantic riffing from Brock. Take one of The Age Of The Micro Man is practically the fully formed beast, indeed more so given it's extended playing time. Considering the original album was only about 35 minutes long, it is surprising that they decided to edit this song as the lengthier version, albeit as an earlier stage, sounds perfectly fine. Disappointingly the album ends on a low with Digger Jam, a brief piece with Calvert trying out his Australian accent mixed in with profanities and a relatively mediocre musical backing. Still, it's only a couple of minutes and one could always stop the album early.
Esoteric, the people behind the management of the Atomhenge imprint, have applied their usual high standards to this reissue, even unearthing the original artwork from the promotional booklet containing the manifesto of 'Pan Transcendental Industries Inc.', an entertaining read if ever there was one. However, if you want to know how PTI Inc managed to prove that 'There are no car doors in Heaven when angels are on the ground' you will just have to get hold of a copy of the album!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Trettioåriga Kriget - War Years
Disc One (Past): Introduction Tippen (0:55) Confusions (1:28) Perspektiv (11.11) Handlingens Skugga (8:21) Krigssang (4:37) False Start (1:07) Krigssang II (12:27) En Kvall Hhos X (5:18) Den Stora Kliniken (3:59) Mot Alla Odds (3:48) Daliga Nerver (3:05) Blues (3:18) Som Forut (5:27) Errolito (3:28)
Disc Two (Present): Introduction (0:21) Lang Historia (8:17) MinaIojen ( 8:27) Om Kriget Kommer (5:32) Andra Sidan (6:11) Jag Och Jag Och “Jag” (4:53) Moln Pa Marken (3:41) I Borjan Och Slutet (3:49) Krigssång (4:58) Gnistor ( 8:42) Ur Djupen (6:40) Dagspress (2:41) Kaledoniska Orogenesen (6:07)
It has been my pleasure and privilege to review quite a few Trettioåriga Kriget (Thirty Years War) CDs for DPRP, so of course I jumped at the chance to hear this, their first Live album. My high expectations were all met and then some!
With the band’s history spanning 36 years, there is a lot of material to cover but despite this, this generous double CD set manages to give a pretty comprehensive overview of the band’s various phases.
Beginning with a couple of brief excerpts from their second ever live gig (from way back in 1971) and coming up to date with recordings from a Swedish concert in 2007, War Years makes for an ideal introduction to a band who have grown and developed their sound with each successive album.
Though divided into Past and Present discs, a strictly chronological approach is avoided. The first disc includes recordings from various Swedish gigs in 1971, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1981, whilst the second disc flits between a performance at ProgDay 2004 USA and the aforementioned Swedish gig in 2007.
Material is taken from all of their studio albums, so we can trace their journey from the bluesy hard rock of Confusions (featuring Harmonica by Ole Thornvall – who thereafter abandoned playing to concentrate on being the band’s lyricist), through the golden age prog rock of the superb, Yes-ish Krigssång II, via the more commercial, new wave tinged Mot Alla Odds, and on to the wonderful contemporary prog of the reformed band with the title track of their latest album I Början Och Slutet.
Along the way, we see the band add occasional keyboards and saxophone to the mix and even a touch of funk, For the most part, though the music is Swedish prog rock of a very high order. With some fabulous soloing on show, there are flashes of Rush, Camel, Yes and heavier bands like Deep Purple or Uriah Heep as well.
The vocals are mainly in Swedish, but Robert Zima has always had a superb voice, and his powerful performances will grab your attention whether you understand the words or not.
Although the second disc is all recent recordings, the material is again selected from most of the band’s albums, so you get to hear a modern slant on classic material like Krigssång and also a storming version of Kaledoniska Orogenesen (from their first, self-titled album from 1974).
As you would expect, the sound quality of the earlier recordings is not as good as the later material, but it’s only really the 1971 material which drops below par, and considering its age, it remains pretty listenable and was well worth including – it’s only brief any way so it shouldn’t put off any hi-fi buffs. The recording quality on the second disc is of a uniform high quality, sacrificing just a little of the studio perfectionism to capture the excitement of the live performances.
On the evidence here provided, Trettioåriga Kriget is a group of superb musicians who consistently deliver in a live setting. For all those who have never had the chance to see the band live, this collection provides an excellent opportunity to see what we’re missing.
Fans (like me) should love it, but it is also perfect for newcomers too.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Australis - The Gates Of Reality
Tracklist: The Gates Of Reality (5:18), Return To Tarshish (5:04), Ephemerage (5:34), Promises Of Light (4:50), Paqta Kutemunga (4:29), Purple Dreams (5:12), Little Clockmaker (5:58), Treasure The Moment (4:10), Illusion Of Company (5:56), The Hoodoo’s Whisper (5:33), Thresholds Of Devotion (4:32), Momentary Truths (5:05), Essentia (3:23), Adventus Sortis (7:09)
It took Oscar Aguayo, the American electronic musician originating from Peru, much longer than he anticipated a few years ago, to release the follow-up to Lifegiving. His highly successful debut dates back from 2005, and this sequel was set for release in 2007. His greatest strength is to arrange fairly simple, straightforward tunes, presumably originating from folk-melodies from the Andes-territory, into both modern as well as crafted electronic music with a soul. The technology of present day allows him to combine both hardware and software synthesizers. With the available recording techniques and software he‘s able to combine a dazzling crystal-clear sound with numerous sophisticated details and effects.
The fourteen compositions on this album, together clocking well over 70 minutes, are all very solid productions, thoroughly thought over and with a lot of fine tuned feeling for detail: for my ears everything seems to sound just right. Obviously no simple machinery is at work here or a guy who just knows how to cut ‘n’ paste. Here you hear the musician, coming up with all the right tones, timbres and arrangements to express his deepest inner emotions. This he did after an intensive and thorough research and a lot of consideration. He picked the right vocalists for some of the tracks and Oscar’s brother Alvaro creates the ultimate atmosphere in the ancient Inca prayer Paqta Kutemunga. Carefully, Oscar chose all samples from keyboards but also other instruments like the violin, trumpet, flutes, accordion, clarinet or acoustic guitar and brings them together with brightly sparkling orchestrations.
The Gates Of Reality is most certainly not an album that allows one to simply dream away neither should it be categorized as ‘ambient’. All melodies are very accessible yet not equally soothing or relaxing. Some parts have got this distinctive excitement and mysticism like in The Hoodoo’s Whisper, as if one is watching an innerving movie. A track like Ephemerage comes close to some of the works by Yanni: delightful sequences, exquisite melodies and floating rhythm patterns. Other parts are more dramatic, some even suitable for a little meditation, for example in the first part of Promises Of Light, whereas the second part features a female voice, talking, flute sample and a delightful ‘bass-groove’. A very nice more dreamy track is Purple Dream where we can hear ‘accordion’.
Sometimes there’s an unexpected change in the musical structure, so that it seems Aguayo is losing track, while in fact he knows exactly what he’s doing and he always finds his ‘way home’ again. The supportive effects, especially in the percussion, are highly original and from the moment the listener hears the footsteps leading to the ‘gates’, subsequently being opened, he or she is soon under the spell of the ‘reality’ of some genuine high classed electronic music.
It has well been worth the wait and this album is very welcome for a position in my top ten list of albums over 2008! Samples can be listened to through Oscar’s (linked above).
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Nemo - Barbares
Tracklist: Ldi (9:40), 19:59 (6:48), Le Film De Ma Vie (7:36), L'armée Des Ombres (9:51), Faux Semblants (7:40), Barbares (25:32)
I have to admit to not knowing a great deal about French band Nemo before taking receipt of Barbares but having read the DPRP reviews of their previous four outings [Présages (2004), Nemo – Prélude à La Ruine (2005), SI Partie I (2006) and SI Partie II ~ L'homme Idéal (2007)], I was very much looking forward to hearing this, their fifth studio album.
Formed back in 2000 and now with the settled line up of Gullaume Fontaine (keyboards and vocals), Lionel B. Guichard (bass and vocals), J.B. Itier (drums and vocals) and J.P. Louveton (guitars and lead vocals), Nemo play a heady eclectic brand of progressive music mixing progressive metal, neo-progressive and jazz influences to often impressive effect. In terms of influences the most obvious, and especially evident in the heavier moments, is Dream Theater and to a lesser extent Rush with a smattering of Yes, Fish-era Marillion and Discipline thrown in for good measure. However it should be emphasised that band do successfully forge a collective individuality all of their own, and an ever present Jazz rock underbelly makes for an interesting sound.
Unfortunately Barbares as an album does not quite hit the heights I was expecting. That’s not to say that there isn’t much to admire here - the opening half of the album is very strong indeed and contains a smattering of truly memorable moments. The music is beautifully played, well arranged and well produced. However my major gripe is the lengthy title track that rather recycles its good but not great themes to death, stretching them out over what becomes a rather laborious 25 minutes.
First track LDI kicks things off to very good effect. It is a strong, well-structured song that provides the band with plenty of opportunity to show off their musical expertise. Evolving from a gentle atmospheric opening of guitar the core of the song sees a muscular Dream-Theater like main theme rubbing shoulders with a delightfully laid back jazz verse-chorus refrain. The instrumentation is very strong with heavy guitar riffing and adventurous keyboard runs overlaying an ever-shifting jazz interplay between bass and drums. The chorus itself is very strong, Louveton’s vocals are effective and it’s nice to see a foreign band singing in their native tongue. Further instrumental breaks include more excellent soloing before the song concludes, as it began with the gentle atmosphere of a single sustained guitar chord.
Next up is 19:59 that is arguably the finest track on display here. Introduced by a vigorous drum beat and a swirl of progressive metal keyboard and guitar it is a tight, cleverly constructed piece of music that shuffles between effective laid back acoustic jazz and powerful progressive metal riffing. Excellent Yes-like bass and drum patterns abound through out and a mid-pace middle section is reminiscent of Fish-era Marillion at their most atmospheric. The song also showcases an excellent extended guitar solo by Louveton with his style sitting somewhere in between Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Marillion’s Steven Rothery. Further technical progressive metal themes round things off in impressive style.
Le Film De Ma Vie is another strong song. Mellow and reflective, it is underpinned by some excellent vocals and a subtle if creative rhythm section that keeps things interesting. The use of gentle synth colours gives the music an almost romantic feel common with many French progressive bands such as Pulsar and Caffeine. Things are taken up a notch via an effective Rush influenced stop-start middle section that showcases some excellent piano work and some nicely clipped guitar riffs. The continuing jazz underbelly keeps things moving forward and an excellent Rothery-like guitar solo brings the song to an impressive close.
The heavy L'armée Des Ombres is an exhaustive, if at times, enjoyable listen starting out through a barrage of fiery distorted guitar and bellowing drums. Although the song again has a jazz feel the song explores some strong neo-progressive themes bringing to mind Arena at their darkest as well as some downbeat woozy instrumental atmospheres that strongly remind of US band Discipline. The song does rather lose its way although finishes strongly with a very Dream Theater-like guitar and keyboard outro augmented by some effective military-style drum patterns.
The intro to Faux Semblants sounds a lot like a slow downed version of the opening to Marillion’s Incommunicado. However the main body of the track sees the band again exploring laid back jazz themes. Some nice vocal harmonies and further impressive soloing are of merit but the song itself is a little dull and a rather cluttered arrangement rather strangles any semblance of good melody and the vocals do seem a little lost in the mix.
Last up is the epic title track Barbares and as I mentioned earlier in the review it is disappointing. It does contain some interesting melodies and as with the rest of the album the playing is top-notch. Unfortunately the two main themes within the song, the first a medieval sounding melody and the second, a busy old-school progressive metal melody are strung out, repeated and embellished across the full 25 minutes of the song. The real problem is the song does not contain enough variety and good ideas to keep the listeners attention. That’s not to say that highlights are not be found here – there are some excellent guitar and keyboard breaks and the drum and bass work is always interesting. However the song meanders, is a little one paced and relies heavily on repetition of the main themes.
As an album Barbares has left me with very mixed feelings. Nemo are undoubtedly a talented group of musicians and the first half of the album also demonstrates a keen ear for good melody and arrangement. And I have no doubt that big fans of progressive metal, jazz-rock and neo-progressive will find much to enjoy. Unfortunately the rather bland and overlong title-track does, in the final analysis, leave Barbares as a rather inconsistent listening experience.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Zingale – The Bright Side
Tracklist: Sooner Or Later (3:00), The Bright Side (4:48), Ashes And Secret (0:42), Money Contentment (3:07), The Basic Commandments (3:56), Forget The Money (4:07), The Last Gate (3:05), Who Holds The Key (10:55), Zingale (4:15), Sicilia (5:45), Good (3:48), Look At The Bright Side (0:47), For David (1:42), Dreams (7:15)
If the name Zingale rings any bells then you might be familiar with their 1977 debut release Peace which by all accounts was a highly regarded slice of classic progressive rock. They continued to gig into the early 80’s before eventually going their separate ways. Following a chance meeting in the city of Kabbalah, Galilee 20 plus years later two of the original members, guitarist Ephraim Barak and bassist Udi Tamir decided to resurrect the name for this belated second album release. Between them they provide the music, lyrics, arrangements, guitars, bass, keyboards, and vocals joined by drummer Barak Ben Zour. It was recorded amidst the war torn conditions of the Lebanese conflict where both Barak and Tamir had their homes bombed during the process.
The album title indicates their optimistic response to the adversity of war as reflected in the consistently upbeat sound. Musically it borrows liberally from Yes at their most symphonic with an injection of Frank Zappa quirkiness circa The Grand Wazoo period. This is immediately evident in Sooner Or Later, a grand sweeping fanfare with a keys and drum intro that’s so ridiculously fast I thought the disc was playing at the wrong speed. The title cut that follows includes superb bass work, a sparkling Wakeman style synth sound and strident volleys of Howe flavoured guitar. It’s certainly very catchy but also lays bare the albums inherent weakness which is the thin falsetto vocals. This is especially evident during The Basic Commandments where the Yes style harmonies fail to disguise the poor singing. Imagine a vocalist that’s a cross between Roger Waters, Rodger Hodgson and Chris Squire straining to reach the high notes and you have a fair idea of what to expect. The English lyrics also seem to be a bit of a stumbling block and perhaps it would have been wiser performing in their native language especially as the words are often indistinguishable.
Money Contentment is the least typical song the album has to offer with its basic Black Sabbath grounded riff and abrasive guitar that’s not really my cup of tea. Thankfully they’re soon back in their progressive stride epitomised by the lengthy Who Holds The Key. Here the bright keys and chiming guitar sound put me in mind of the ABWH album and Order Of The Universe. The bands namesake piece Zingale is a lush Jean Michel Jarre tinged instrumental soundscape with harp, violin and oriental percussive effects. Likewise For David is a beautiful celestial organ solo piece and a fitting tribute to original band member and shell shock victim David Hofesh Bachar who committed suicide in the 1990’s. On a more cheery note the aptly titled Good boasts a strong melody with complimentary harpsichord and weeping guitar interplay. With the stately Dreams they’ve saved probably the best track until last where the harmonies almost verge on the great. It builds to an anthemic choral refrain with some monumental drumming.
The last word you would use to describe this release is dull. Often sweeping and grandiose, occasionally undisciplined and chaotic (especially in the vocal department) but consistently proggy and tuneful. It’s available exclusively through CD Baby although our review disc came to the DPRP courtesy of a dedicated fan who is also responsible for creating the bands website. It features slightly different artwork from that shown above plus two additional short instrumentals but their absence from the commercially available version is of no concern. Click the samples link above and discover for yourself the memorable if slightly idiosyncratic world of Zingale.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Robin Taylor – Isle Of Black
Tracklist: Confession (6:16), Johannesburg (6:11), Swingers (4:04), Isle of Black (4:58), Mind Archaeology (9:45), Izmit (11:06)
While Robin Taylor is fairly well known among the progressive circles, a glaring fact can't be overlooked: out of 16 reviews of Robin Taylor or Taylor's Universe related releases (17 if you include recently reviewed Art Cinema,) not one has yet to achieve DPRP recommended status. I'm not about to say this has anything to do with anything that Robin Taylor lacks. On the contrary, and as admitted in many reviews, it is that he is hard to understand.
Luckily, this offering from the prolific instrumentalist and songwriter is not so hard to understand. It is described as having the styling of a soundtrack and as such its deficiencies as a cohesive piece of work become excusable.
Isle Of Black is short yet contains many turns. The opening tune, Confession, takes us on a six-minute jaunt with a full 3-minute ramp up into a fine instrumental that sounds much like Yes playing a piece off Close To The Edge.
The sound slows way down from there to some lofty vocals intertwined among a repeating melody line in Johannesburg. This one takes the minimalist approach of adding a different instrument or switching the melody between vocals and keys and moving the impetus around until it hits a rather abrupt finish after reaching a well-built climax.
When the next song, Swingers, got rolling I started to really get into this disc. It runs a firm swing beat into some of the most enjoyable smoky saxophone jazz I have heard in a while. I really wish he would have made more of this concept because just as I was getting into it the song breaks back into the extremely repetitive melody it started with. Here is where the repetition began to put a damper into an otherwise fine release.
Then he breaks out a nice sounding Deep Purple style riff on the Hammond, but once again, the repetition of the overriding melody put off what could have been a fantastic tune. The changes are nicely done, well placed, but then even the changes became repetitive. It was as if repetition was the theme and the theme was repeated within a refrain.
Mind Archaeology is up next and once again we get an extensive lead-in into another even more extensive build-up to a great tune with a beautiful underlying softness to it. I have to admit I can’t think of another tune that has taken this approach, and without trying to sound critical, it literally took 7 minutes to hear the 2-minute song behind all the wandering saxophone and repeating bass lines. As critical as this sounds, I want to express that this is creative and original. If you are looking for something different, Robin Taylor is a good place to look.
The album ends with Izmit, another minimalistic and repetitive tune but this time without the benefit of an identifiable melody. At 11 minutes long I’m reminded again of the previous reviews in which the reviewer chose not to score the disc largely because of no frame of reference.
While I didn’t have a lot of positives to say for this album, it’s not a bad one. There is obviously a very deep well of talent and ingenuity here. I heard some polyrhythmic time signature work and some great groovy jams. Robin Taylor is not out to please everyone, that is for certain; and he pleased me at a rate of about 6.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Aegis Integer - Sand Timer
Tracklist: Ouroboros (11:23), 8 Of Diamonds (4:21), Mirrors & Hallways (6:01), Caressing The Silence (3:53), Liminal Passage (7:37), Leafless (4:17), Astral Peak (8:51)
First thing to say about Aegis Integer is that Sand Timer is their first and last album, although immediately not really true because the band has chosen another name to continue their career, namely Della Terra. Aegis Integer's influences can be found in popular bands like Radiohead and Coldplay but also Rush can be mentioned. The latter mainly because the bass sound, but in my opinion that part of the sound is more equal to that of RC2.
The opener Ouroboros is the longest track on the album reaching over eleven minutes. It starts very mellow but when the song gains energy the music reminds me of RC2's latest album Future Awaits. However the composition is not very solid and it seems like multiple songs are glued together - nice music but it does not click. Whereas 8 Of Diamonds has a very strange rhythm and bass line, resulting ina good song that is more than just a difficult pop-song. Similar musically to the first song but somehow this song is much more coherent and comprehensive. Mirrors & Hallways is a ballad with heavy parts in it, but again it never really takes of, stuck in the middle. Not a bad song but like the first track it never really reaches out, it also does not alternate enough for a six minute piece. Following this is Caressing The Silence, a mellow keyboard solo that seems a bit pointless.
Moving on and that distinctive bass at the start of Liminal Passage, coupled with the guitar sound make it sound like Rush. Whilst the strange drumming gives it a hint of Primus, albeit very small though. This song strolls on and on, and on, and on.... and certainly could have been more catchy. Similarly the acoustic guitar and mellow vocals on Leafless are nice but it somehow feels like they did not make the effort to turn it into a composition. And finally on Astral Peak the band takes a turn to the more complex song structures, a shame that it seems limited to the first and the last songs on this album. All is not quite over, as a bonus there are some extra sounds that appear to me as if someone left the tape rolling when the recording was done. In the end it turns out to be guitar but I am not really sure why they put it as a bonus on the album.
The music of Aegis Integer is on the poppy side of progressive rock, Radiohead and Coldplay, but also influences from Rush and RC2 come to mind. At the surface the music is very enjoyable but the compositions lack structure. It is all played very nicely, with some good tunes, but in the final analysis Sand Timer appears to be just loose sand. Too bad, at first the music appealed to me, but I lost interest very rapidly.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Didier Bardin - Le Pouvoir Des Pierres
Tracklist: Turquoise (Bonheur) (8:04), Jade (Paix) (8:50), Amethyste (Spiritualité) (6:53), Quartz Rose (Amour) (6:55), Ambre (Bien-être) (8:15), Hématite (Courage) (8:06), Cristal De Roche (Vérité) (9:56)
Spearheaded by Musea’s electronic/ambient imprint Dreaming, an evident movement of music in that genre continues to arrive out of France. Frédéric Maillet and Aeryal have both been reviewed by DPRP (2008, Vol. 7 and 2008, Vol. 28 respectively). Now on Dreaming comes Didier Bardin with his concept release Le Pouvoir Des Pierres. Bardin, born into a family of musicians, learned acoustic and electric guitar as a child and went on to discover analog synthesizers and electronic music. He immersed himself in musical projects, collaborations and compositions for the theatre. He earned a degree in musicology from the prestigious Sorbonne University.
Le Pouvoir Des Pierres was conceived by Bardin in response to the question: Is it possible to create a soothing and beneficial music, while varied and interesting? The theme of this CD was also inspired by the discoveries of Toronto University professor Lee Bartel, whose studies reveal the direct effect of certain frequencies on the production of alpha, beta, and delta cerebral waves. Bartel’s studies also show the action of certain rhythms on the respiratory and cardiac cycle. Bardin chose minerals as a conceptual framework. While minerals are hard and rough, there is nothing hard and rough about Bardin’s sound designs. On the contrary, the seven pieces on Le Pouvoir Des Pierres are smooth and calm. Overall, the CD is not too far removed from In Search Of The Lost Chord by The Moody Blues.
Bardin is credited in the colourful CD booklet with the CD’s composition, programming, instruments and realization. The credit of “instruments” is not more specific than that, so I will venture my best guess that out of what you hear, the guitar, sitar, and piano are real; while the woodwind elements heard are also played but synth generated, and the percussion being programmed.
Jade (Paix) offers some Steve Roach-like washes of sound, along with the aforementioned sitar and some carefully placed percussion. French spoken word vocals from guest chanteuse Carole Moron, combined with some piano elements, evoke Romanian ambient-pop project Enigma as a pointer.
The solo work of Patrick Moraz serves as an influence on Turquoise (Bonheur), with its flute-like sounds and piano melodies.
Ethnic percussion and some more flute sounds refer to Peter Gabriel as an influence on Quartz Rose (Amour) which features some chants from Moron and some unadorned synths.
Pink Floyd and Lycia serve as influences on other portions of the CD’s music, which is well composed, performed and produced. The songs tend to sound alike, but at the same time they flow well together. Excellent music for relaxing and drinking tea on a rainy day.
The CD booklet features a design of uncut minerals, photographs of trees and a candle taken by Bardin, and liner notes in French. The liner notes describe Bardin’s idea for the project and offer thanks to Moron for her participation.
This CD will appeal to anyone who enjoys relaxing ambient music. If you’re more of a rock and roller, this CD is probably not for you.
For his next CD I suggest Bardin try out a conceptual song cycle of shorter, interlocked tracks with the spoken word vocals featured more prominently.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Alitheia - Chthonick
Tracklist: Sanctum Of The Symbol (7:03), Solid Of Revolution (7:39), Root Of Infinity (6:08), Penumbra (5:48), The Empty Set (9:41), Potamos (9:22)
Hailing from Miami in Florida, Alitheia’s music is described in their bio as ‘a complex ebb and flow of uncompromising experimentation’. What we have in reality on Chthonick are six relatively complex tracks of technical rock which bear a pretty heavy debt to Tool, with nods (in its more off-the-wall moments) to the more aggressive System Of A Down and occasionally recalling the technical virtuosity of latter day King Crimson.
Central to the band is the fat, rumbling bass lines laid down by Ricardo Diaz-Albertini and the guitar work of Raul Valentine, which traverses the spectrum from dirty down-tuned riffing through to shimmering clean guitar lines which inject some melody in to proceedings, although the band’s default setting are the kind of sinewy, technical, gradually developing rhythmic grooves that will certainly sound familiar to Tool fans. The vocals of Alfredo Vicente (who, incidentally, has recently left the band) are probably an acquired taste, although I feel they work quite well in the context of the material; although skirting close to those of Maynard James Keenan at times, Vicente employs a wider range of delivery – on opener Sanctum Of The Symbol, for instance, he veers from strange mantra-like chanting to a stream-of-consciousness aggressive rant.
The songs themselves are technically accomplished and varied enough to hold the interest; there is a well struck balance between aggression and more subdued, melodic moments. Whilst their bio mentions similarities to the ‘atmospherics’ of U2 and Pink Floyd I don’t really hear these bands in Alitheia’s music, but there is perhaps a touch of Muse in the more anthemic moments on songs such as Solid Of Revolution and The Empty Set. The production is fairly dry (presumably purposely so) but not so much that the sound is devoid of emotion when necessary.
The album perhaps drags a little towards the end, and Alitheia do need to continue to develop their sound in order to get away from the Tool comparisons that will inevitably dog them at the moment, but overall Chthonick is a sound debut that is worth checking out if you’re a fan of intelligent technical metal.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10