Reviews in this issue:
- Nick Magnus - n'monix
- Pandora - Alibi Filosofico
- Toxic Smile - 7
- Neverdream - The Circle
- The Black Noodle Project - Ghosts and Memories
- Se Delan - The Fall
- Three Monks - The Legend of the Holy Circle
- Forest Field - Pioneers of the Future
- Peppe Giannuzzi - Violinizer
- 7 Ocean - Diapause
Nick Magnus - n'monix
Nick Magnus is most well known for the 11 years he spent working with Steve Hackett, but before that he was also briefly a member of The Enid and the prog rock group Autumn whose mini CD of material recorded way back in 1976 is well worth a listen. Since 1989, when his tenure as Hackett's keyboard player ended, he has remained active in many different musical spheres (some quite surprising, check out his web site for full details) but has kept in the public eye by releasing four solo albums, albeit with an average of five years between each one. Since his last release was four years ago, he duly delivers his fifth solo release, n'monix released on the Esoteric Antenna label. The name is a phonetical spelling of 'mnemonic', a system or device for aiding memory. The album is mostly a true solo album, musically at least, as Magnus plays everything on his keyboards with the exception of guitar on three tracks, performed by Steve Hackett (who else could it have been?!), and soprano sax and flute on one song played by Rob Townsend, a long-time member of Hackett's touring band. It is in the vocal department where Magnus relinquishes control and a variety of guests are featured - James Reeves, Kate Faber, Andy Neve, Pete Hicks and Tim Bowness all sing on one track each and Tony Patterson, who fronts Genesis tribute band ReGenesis, gets to add his larynx to two numbers. All lyrics were written by Dick Foster.
Things kick off in a very dramatic fashion with Time, a driving song with a heavy beat and plenty to grab the attention of the prog fan. Magnus' skill in making his keyboards sound like a full band is very impressive and one would be hard pushed on hearing this song to discern that everything is generated by the keyboards. The drums, in particular, are very impressive. Patterson takes the vocal and does a splendid job with, as one would suspect, some similarities with Peter Gabriel in his delivery. Transitioning directly into Memory we head into more classical territory with a very pastoral melody accompanied by the fantastic vocals of soprano Kate Faber. The keyboard orchestrations are fab and the final mass choir is breathtakingly beautiful. From the serious to the somewhat sillier with Kombat Kid featuring the second Patterson vocal. The tale of a child's addiction to a video game where the game eventually overtakes the boy has cleverly written lyrics which are most amusing, a chorus that insinuates itself into the brain and won't let go and, particularly apt, is the mnemonic used as the final line of the song. However, one can't help but think that Nick is doing Townsend out of a job by playing the flute line on his keyboards!
Headcase offers a rather quirky musical intro and coda which is straight out of the Gentle Giant style of song writing. There is a definite quirkiness to the lyrics as well, I mean, how can you top lines such as "It sounds fantastical that folks geriatrical should snack on arachnid 'cos their diet's so hackneyed"? Nick himself takes vocals on this song and does a very good job, so much so that I am somewhat surprised that he doesn't sing more, although his use of guest vocalists does offer a degree of variety to his songs and it has to be said he does have a knack of finding vocalists that suit the song perfectly. A good example of this is on Eminent Victorians which sees the reuniting of Magnus with vocalist Peter Hicks who was, of course, singer on the early Hackett albums. The reunion is made more complete by Hackett playing guitar. Indeed, the song itself would fit quite well on Please Don't Touch for example, so if you are familiar with that album (and if you are not, you should be!) you will know what to expect. The guitar solo is Hackett at his best - also, check out the great video for this number:-
No-Man vocalist Tim Bowness sings on Broken and his mellifluous style naturally imbues this ballad with a very No-Man feel. Townsend's sax and flute add an extra dimension to the music and Hackett also contributes a brief solo on an arpeggio guitar, whatever that may be. Ethereal layers of vocals provide the backing on the album's only instrumental, Shadowlands. Although fairly short, is just perfect mainly down to Hackett's inspired performance, playing a prominent guitar line that is in complete harmony with the tone and texture provided by the vocalists. Simple and sublime. Final song, and vocalist, is Entropy with James Reeves (and Andy Neeve providing backing vocals, a task he also performs on Eminent Victorians). A perfectly nice song which suffers somewhat from not being particularly memorable. It is much more low key than other tracks on the album, has a long instrumental introduction and a skilled keyboard derived 'guitar' solo with everything slotting neatly into place. It will no doubt be one of those numbers that, in time, becomes a classic and whose delights take time to be appreciated but at this stage of my relationship with the piece I am struggling to find anything enlightening to write about it (which should be interpreted as my limitations as a writer rather than Nick's as a composer!). I did wonder if it was perhaps out of sequence and should perhaps have appeared earlier in the album, but on further consideration decided that it was the best way to end proceedings.
Magnus is not the most prolific of writers, at least not of his solo material, but one has to say that he never scrimps on quality. The music on n'monix is accomplished, polished and expertly performed and matches Foster's lyrics perfectly. Esoteric have a great reputation for quality re-releases and it looks as if they are maintaining those quality standards in their series of new music releases under the Antenna banner. As with all of Magnus' albums, this one is worth listening to.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Nick Magnus CD Reviews:-
|"There's a lot of different things on this album. Maybe a bit too much? Well, no matter what mood I am in, there's always a song I have to skip because I don't feel like listening to. On the other hand, there's always some songs that I do feel like listening to any time."
(Jerry van Kooten, 7/10)
Pandora - Alibi Filosofico
Formed around 2005 by seasoned keyboardist Beppe Colombo and his multi-instrumentalist son, Claudio - two generations united by a deep love for the Golden Age of progressive rock - and later joined by keyboardist/vocalist Claudio Grappeggia, Pandora hail from the North Western Italian region of Piedmont. Their first foray into the prog limelight came in 2008 with their debut album, Dramma di un Poeta Ubriaco, followed by Sempre e Ovunque Oltre il Sogno in 2011. Both albums were received very positively, and encouraged the band to continue on the same path, blending the lush sounds of vintage Italian prog with more modern suggestions, especially those coming from the thriving progressive metal scene (not surprisingly, seeing as Claudio Colombo is a big Dream Theater fan). The band's third effort, titled Alibi Filosofico, was released in September 2013 on BTF/AMS like its two predecessors. The three core members are joined by Il Castello di Atlante's Dino Fiore and Leonardo Gallizio on bass, as well as two prestigious international guests - former Van Der Graaf Generator saxophonist David Jackson and Ayreon mainman Arjen Lucassen.
The striking, brightly-coloured artwork that graces Alibi Filosofico's cover and lavish booklet (by young Puerto Rican artist Emoni Viruet, who is also Claudio Colombo's wife, and appears on the album as an additional vocalist) immediately attracts the attention, foreshadowing the album's musical content - which, in many ways, reflects the strong visual impact of the images. The band's very name, with its reference to Greek mythology, connects their music to the grand tradition of Italian prog and its wider cultural background - as well as suggesting the eclectic nature of their sound, a veritable melting pot of influences sealed with a recognizable individual imprint. Pandora are not those looking for understatement, their sound is unabashedly lush with layers of keyboards, sharp-edged riffs and grandiosely expressive vocals tempered by the gentler touch of the flute, the stately Renaissance flavour of the harpsichord and the organic note of hand percussion.
Anyone expecting Alibi Filosofico to be a retro-fest will be quickly disabused by even a cursory listen to the album, which (as hinted above) will reveal the unexpected influence of classic progressive metal. Indeed, if I were to resort to one of those half-serious, half-joking descriptions so popular with my fellow music scribes, I would state that Pandora often sound like Dream Theater would if they were Italian. The influence of the pioneering New York outfit (far from a personal favourite, but undeniably influential in the development of a lot of modern progressive rock, not just of the metal persuasion) comes unmistakably to the fore in the longer, more elaborate numbers. After its brisk, high-energy intro, opener Il Necromante, Khurastos e la Prossima Vittima also hints at Black Sabbath with its tolling bells and ominous vocals, offset by gentle acoustic guitar and sparse piano; on the other hand, the title-track's main theme introduces a note of purely Italian, almost pop-tinged melody that fits the wry lyrics about a relationship on the rocks. In the ultra-eclectic Sempre Con Me Claudio Colombo's guitar is spotlighted, making for a very dramatic texture together with passionate vocals and rich synth layers. Arjen Lucassen dominates the instrumental Nè Titolo Nè Parole with his Minimoog and electric guitar solo, while roaring Hammond organ lends a vintage hard rock flavour reminiscent of Uriah Heep, softened by Emoni Viruet's lovely wordless vocals - almost like Renaissance jamming with Black Sabbath.
Preceded by the sombre, tense keyboard-led instrumental La Risalita, Apollo (the album's longest track) is strategically placed in the middle, and treads more than once in Avant territory, allowing David Jackson's array of effects (provided by his own system called Soundbeam & Switches) to hold sway together with more traditional instruments such as flute, Mellotron and harpsichord. Though the track contains no singing in a conventional sense, it features a spoken dialogue between Pandora and the titular god (voiced by Duilio Mongittu), creating a heady mix of varied atmospheres with a deeply cinematic flavour. The album's most interesting number by far, however, comes in the shape of the 6-minute "jazz-waltz" of Tony il Matto, a touching tribute to Italian Naïve painter Antonio Ligabue, eerily enhanced by recorded voices echoing almost in counterpoint. David Jackson's sax emotes with nostalgic abandon throughout the track, while Grappeggia delivers a commandingly emotional vocal performance.
Clocking in at barely under an hour - a sensible running time for such a dense, powerful album - Alibi Filosofico's wildly eclectic rollercoaster ride may leave first-time listeners somewhat baffled, and consequently need more than one spin to be properly absorbed. While the prog metal elements - such as occasional shreddy guitar passages, frantic double-bass drum beats and imperious synth sweeps - may put off the more traditional-minded prog listeners, the stellar musicianship is put at the service of the compositions rather than the reverse, and the uniquely Italian flair for melody introduces more than just a touch of engaging warmth into the often mind-bogglingly complex fabric of the music. All in all, Alibi Filosofico - though perhaps not the best choice for lovers of minimalism - will offer a rewarding listening experience to most prog fans, and is obviously highly recommended to devotees of the Italian scene.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Toxic Smile - 7
7 is the fourth full-length album from German progressive metal band Toxic Smile. As seems to be a refreshing trend for the genre, Toxic Smile manage to infuse their progressive metal sound with several unique elements that set them apart from other bands that play in a similar style. In a way, they remind me of Haken, using progressive metal as a base for their music, but adding in other elements such as Jazz, funk and an almost Middle-Eastern flavor. It creates a blend that excites the ear and ensures that their sound never becomes too bland or monotonous.
The album kicks off with From Inside Out with a prominent funky bass line and keys, first in distortion like through an AM radio. The sound becomes clear and they add their trademark heavy metal guitar sound and then the vocal. The vocalist, Larry B., has a fantastic clear voice that does a great job between sounding very clean, but also adding a little growl in the heavier sections when necessary. Parts of this song remind me of the recently broken up band Unitopia. An interesting addition of violin to the chorus adds another dimension to a great energetic track.
Barefooted Man is one of my personal favourite songs on the album. It starts with a laid back, jazzy groove where the bass line and piano really shine. This leads to a huge sing-along chorus. Throughout the music, Toxic Smile manage to maintain moments where they can insert tricky instrumental sections and unique time signatures. The middle of this song has a wonderful instrumental section that transforms from beautiful swirling piano to chugging guitar and soaring synths. This song is a perfect balance of what the band does so well, seamlessly moving from beautiful moving music to fast-paced instrumental workouts all whilst keeping a strong sense of the melody.
The third track is Needless which is a more straightforward progressive metal song. My favorite part is the quirky instrumental section halfway with a bouncy interplay between guitar and keys. It sounds like a segment from a Haken song. Next up is Love Without Creation which starts interestingly with only saxophone. This is another highlight of the album and I love the quirky saxophone melody and the once again jazzy feel of the song. Keyboardist Marek Arnold really shines in this track as he plays both the keyboards and saxophone. This track is a nice break between the more heavy tracks on the album.
The band gets right back into their progressive metal sound on fifth track, Rayless Sun. This is perhaps the closest Toxic Smile get to sounding like classic Dream Theater but with their own twist that makes it unique and interesting. As seems to be their pattern, halfway through the track is a big quirky instrumental section that leads to a very interesting repeated vocal melody that keeps building. The band really sets into their groove here and it makes for one of the most exciting and memorable tracks on the album.
King of Nowhere is the shortest track at just under four minutes. It is a great hard-hitting song that never outstays its welcome with great drumming and once again solid keyboard work. It fits very well into the album. The big conclusion to the album is track seven, Afterglow. This is a powerful closer that showcases all that the band is about. The song is a great bridge between the classic progressive rock sound of the seventies with the harder edge of current progressive metal. The band pulls out all its tricks for this one with soaring guitars and keys, tricky rhythms and a strong vocal melody sung by Larry B. A great ending to an incredible listening experience!
7 by Toxic Smile is a wonderful progressive metal album. Throughout its seven songs, there is great variety and musicianship on display. The band is able to infuse their music with their own signature stamp that keeps me returning to this album over and over again. The album feels just the right length, where it never outstays its welcome and I'm left wanting more at the end. This is the first album I've heard from this band, but I am now a fan. I strongly recommend 7 to anyone who loves good progressive metal with unique elements.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Toxic Smile CD Reviews:-
|Overdue Visit [EP]
|"Certainly on the evidence here, I shall be checking out the band in the future."
(Bob Mulvey, 6/10)
|I'm Your Saviour
|"Whilst there is plenty of variety across the album, the songs tend do to stay within their individual styles, grooves and melodies."
(Andy Read, 7/10)
|Previous Toxic Smile Live Reviews:-
|Fused Festival, Lydney, U.K.
Neverdream - The Circle
CD 1 - Intro (3:45), Requiem (9:08), A Life Beyond (2:26), Godless (8:45), Vesta (1:48), Hell's Flower (10:48), Mary Jane (5:16), The Face Of Fear (7:16), Hypnosis (8:24)
CD 2 - Di Lei La Morte (4:10), The Actor Of Blood (9:29), Killer Machine (17:16)
The Circle is the fourth Opus by Italian Prog Metallers Neverdream. From their initial EP, Rain of Sorrow in 2004, they've used the next 10 years to hone their craft via a history of concept albums and this latest offering also sits within said oeuvre.
The material is a musical interpretation of a short story of the same name written by renowned Italian Author Maria Teresa Valle, and contains elements of religion, unrequited affection, child abuse, serial killing, and police detection. The translation of this into the 12 tracks of complex quavers and dots is therefore quite a dark affair.
Intro conspicuously begins this voyage and is a scene setter with the subservient children's voices of Adam and Vesta, the story's main protagonists. Gabriele Palmieri's fine rock drumming is noticeable and is a constant throughout the album.
Latin choral vocals and the introduction of the most unusual aspect of this band, Fabrizio Dottori's saxophone (also credited with programming) brings us the second track, Requiem. With its voluminous interplay and a fine solo from guitarist Giuseppe Marinelli, it's the first time we hear one of the two guest vocalists in Alessandra Filippi. This is how Neverdream sound.
The short and slightly techno A Life Beyond continues the story with the 'Mother' character trying to free her children from the oppressive father. It is a short breather before Godless continues the narrative with the whole band giving it their all. To my ears though, the jazz improv sax solo together with the metal distorted guitar do not make good bed fellows, but it does evoke a sense of conflict which reflects Adam's (the son's) anger at his mother. Nevertheless, it's quite a tough listen!
At 1:48 the album's shortest track, Vesta (the daughter) and (spoiler alert!) maybe killer, is a pleasant acoustic song with a keyboard flute motif and it displays the softer side of Giorgio Massimi's vocals, in fact I've enjoyed all of his performances on this recording. Hell's Flower starts with solo piano then morphs into a good solid piece with Mauro Neri's Keyboards coming to the fore. The 'Father' character, Victor Stanley, had brought up the son Adam to believe that all women are evil and when Adam meets a girl in later years he compares her to a flower, but one grown in Hell. I have interpreted the section where the sax and guitar play in unison as if depicting that dichotomy, it creates a unique timbre I've rarely heard.
The sax is on home territory played with pop gusto on Mary Jane mirroring Adam's adoration towards his "Oggetto di affetto" which I think is "object of affection", but with my rusty Italian it could be an ice cream. Just taking a commercial break from this review, I am always astounded at how good Europeans are at the English language, it really does put us Brits to shame...
Anyway...back to planet Prog Metal, The Face Of Fear brings us a gothic plate of it, but with Alessandra's vibrato giving it a "Theatrical musicals" vibe ending with more grandiose guitar playing.
The instrumental Hypnosis lulls us with a sweet sax and piano intro before becoming what for me is the more Prog side (err...round bit) of The Circle. Good interplay, including a bijou (that should be 'piccolo') comic sax/jazz interlude before bringing back the guitar and sax playing in unison again. I really like the sax on this.
With its funeral march and menacing synth double bass bowing start, the next track, Di Lei La Morte or "Her Death" (thanks Google translate - other translation apps are available) features just keyboards, choir, and Giorgio in very fine voice singing in his native Italian. The "pictures" it creates are of swaying mourners shuffling in colour rinsed misery.
The Actor Of Blood is a song told from Curtis, the detective character's point of view and introduces his dead brother, Gabriel. Gabriel's Spirit is "played" by second guest vocalist Andy Kuntz from German outfit Vanden Plas with powerful results. This is my second favourite track and is very theatrical in its exposition.
The final track is 17:16 long and therefore ticks the first box of what makes a satisfying Prog record. Thankfully it's also allowed to wear the t-shirt too, as this is the most Proggy track so far. Killer Machine is the Murderer but is sung/told by Curtis and Gabriel and has a lot to do with our intrepid Homicide Lawman's Ketamine induced hallucinations (read the book!). After a few bars of fusion style jazz emphasised by Andrea Terzulli's soloing bass, the nefarious guitar breaks down the nightclub's door and the tale continues. Metal allows Prog some leeway with the keyboards slightly up in the mix whilst the power house drumming tells the listener that Metal is still the boss. All three singers further add to the theatrical staging as it grows into the story's epitaph as the fatalistic Curtis succumbs to his destiny as it contains some lovely uplifting keyboard strings which comes as a brief respite from the horror film we've just heard. The piano outro fades but doesn't resolve, only adding to the darkness...
I've played this quite a lot to "get into it" so (for me) it's been a grower. To my ears, the "click" on the kick drum on modern Metal Albums has always annoyed me, but I know why it's done; it can be heard on any speaker including a phone, and the sax within this genre can be an acquired taste. However, this is only an opinion and mustn't detract from the fact that this is a fine body of work. The fact that it is available as a free download (from their Website) in a very respectable 320kbs mp3 but with the option of purchasing the CD version, shows the confidence that this band must have in the product. The book is also "gratuito" as a .pdf - well done all. I recommend Neverdream's The Circle and think it will appeal to fans of Pain Of Salvation, Opeth and Riverside.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Neverdream CD Reviews:-
|"They are clearly capable of producing a better album than this; they have some original ideas, can probably execute them, but will need to write some better compositions and most of all improve their production and sound quality."
(Joris Donkel, 5.5/10)
The Black Noodle Project - Ghosts and Memories
Tracklist: The Wanderer of Lost Memories (11:12), They Live, We Sleep (3:59), The Owls (Are Not What Seem) (7:11), Shades of Tomorrow (6:25), Voices from Yesterday (5:48), Ghosts (3:37), A Purple Memory (10:32)
"I too have been touched by the devilish one. Tattoo on the left shoulder... Oh, but when I saw the face of God, I was changed. I took the entire arm off. My name is Mike. His name is Bob"
The above monologue is from the one armed man in a creepy and well known classic sequence of Detective Dale Cooper's dream in the cult TV series Twin Peaks from the early '90s.
One of the distinctive elements of the series that created a definable layer of suspense was the rather superb soundtrack from American composer, Angelo Badalamenti. His style of TV and film scoring was both distinctive and memorable.
Twenty-five years on from the mystery of Laura Palmer and a listen to The Owls are Not What They Seem (another Twin Peaks reference) from French outfit The Black Noodle Project and it's immediately easy to understand the influences from Badalamenti and Lynch that went into some of their compositions. The slow, mysterious delay tones from a clean style fifties guitar are very reminiscent of the Twin Peaks series and are perfectly suited for a soundtrack to a dark, brooding TV series or movie.
This track from their latest release, Ghosts and Memories (2013) sums up the band's writing style and the project quite neatly. Classifying the work as compositions, Jérémie Grima and Sébastien Bourdeix have produced a piece of work that is much closer to a filmic soundtrack than a regular Progressive Rock album.
That is not to say that there isn't an element of the Prog genre here. The delicate Ghosts is evocative in places of Mike Oldfield in some of its melodies and gentle passages. In contrast the opening eleven minute The Wanderer of Lost Memories seems at odds with both the film score styling and the more subtle Prog elements as it chugs with familiar punch in the style of Porcupine Tree's latter, hard-edged output. Indeed, a first listen to this track before hearing the rest of the album and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you have a fairly unoriginal release on your hands, a view point that does mask the truer more original nature of the rest of the album.
Putting this aside and focusing again on the movie inspired pieces that follow, the album really opens up and has more to offer with the excellent They Live, We Sleep. Its opening rhythmic one note synth has the listener transported to an apocalyptic future New York from the imagination of director John Carpenter. Carpenter's low budget soundtrack for his film Escape From New York was born out of financial necessity and stands out as one of the more memorable and unique soundtracks of the twentieth century. Channelling the classic score Grima and Bourdeix avoid imitation, instead using it for the basis for an original composition which builds in tension and drama.
The final song, A Purple Memory, closes the album impressively with a well-crafted mixture of hard and soft tones. The first half features a repeating guitar riff with a flavour of early Steve Rothery in the slow bends and some of the phrasing. This gives way to a rather pretty Oldfield-like passage, particularly in the bass line. The interlude acts as a bridge to a classic Progressive Rock trick - a slow burning, repeating melody which continues over and over for the last five or so minutes. It retains its filmic quality throughout to the last second, closing with an abrupt, black-out moment - a very effective ending.
The Black Noodle Project may appear on the first listen to be a little less accessible than some other artists in the genre. This album does have many tracks that are impressive and captivating which do require repeated plays to fully appreciate. However, there are moments where the tracks do overuse a looping passage segment a little too much and some of the minimalist, atmospheric parts combined with the very sparse vocals mean that there is a lack of bite at times.
Perhaps one of the realities of a film-like soundtrack is its limited scope for regular spins in the CD player. Nonetheless, its unique ability to create a thought-provoking mood should be a solid reason to check this work out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous The Black Noodle Project CD Reviews:-
|And Life Goes On...
|"I guess I can recommend this CD to those die-hard Pink Floyd fans who find second-tier mimicry to their liking..."
(John J. Shannon, 4/10)
|"...the album isn’t by any means bad, but it's an album made by a group of musicians who are, in my opinion, very much trying to find their way past the omnipresence of their heroes."
(Gerald Wandio, 6/10)
|"The emphasis on the guitars and the absence of keyboards means that Black Noodle's Eleonore sounds a bit one dimensional to me."
(Leo Koperdraat, 6/10)
Se Delan - The Fall
Tracklist: Intro (3:28), Chasing Changes (5:31), Beneath The Sea (6:14), Little One (4:50), Today (3:06), Tonight (4:10), The Hunt (3:51), Dirge (4:56), On My Way (5:15), Lost Never Found (5:17)
Se Delan, the most recent addition to U.K. post-prog label of choice kscope, are a duo comprising of multi-instrumentalist Justin Greaves of Crippled Black Phoenix fame, and Swedish singer Belinda Kordic, who has previously recorded as Killing Mood.
Belinda has a highly interesting background, being born of Croatian hippie parents in Australia and having led an itinerant early life before settling in Sweden. She retired from music after her Killing Mood album in 2009, but was thankfully enticed back into the biz by Justin for a track on a CBP album that ultimately led to this distinctive and absorbing collaboration, a true melding of musical souls.
Belinda's words and voice added to the stately tunes from Justin give The Fall a Gothic vibe. Belinda is an understated singer whose individualistic vocals go through changes from the purring and huskily sexy, to full-on Ann Magnusson art-punk declamations. The former breathe their way through the warm caress that is Chasing Changes, in full contrast to the lyric of isolation within a relationship, and the latter appear on The Hunt, an interestingly indecipherable performance from the chanteuse over a fiery blast of musical amphetamine. This is no Annie Haslam clone, that's for sure!
Justin's varied musical contributions, while unavoidably drawing on the same influences as Crippled Black Phoenix, are toned down and honed to fit perfectly with Belinda's individual and enticing voice, and take a more studied approach than the epic constructs of his main band; CBP are the yang, Se Delan are the yin, while both bands have an inescapable cinematic quality.
A folk influence pervades Beneath The Sea, the lone banjo (?) picking out a melody for Belinda to follow with her call for an end to warmongering machismo and a beginning to peace, eventually being joined by the rest of the instrumentation. Little One is a nice reflective piano-led ballad, musing on how a newborn life becomes a cure for the melancholy blues. Given the subject matter, the tune could have been but never does gets kitsch, and is another layer of strata in this musically interesting record. Today is an interesting choice of cover, being the Jefferson Airplane love song from their breakthrough sophomore album Surrealistic Pillow (which I knew), apparently written by Marty Balin and Paul Kantner for Tony Bennett (which I didn't)! That it fits in just perfectly is testament to the quality of the original material.
Some of the music elsewhere exudes a heavy post-punk influence, akin to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. This shows on Tonight, a tale of a losing battle with Morpheus in the land of sleep. The same influence is felt on the simple but effective swirling atmospherics of Dirge, which coupled with Belinda's breathy intonations create just the right kind of oppressive ambience one would expect a tune with that title to have. Elements of The Patti Smith Group raise their head on the soaring On My Way, shot through with a devil-may-care post-everything swagger, while the Grim Reaper casts his random gaze through Belinda's lyric.
Live these songs are given a big energy boost, but that does not take away from this fine debut album from Se Delan. Justin tells us in the interview video (see above) that this will be an ongoing project, so there will be more to come, which I look forward to no end.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Three Monks - The Legend of the Holy Circle
Sometimes life is easy and simple, I like that once in a while even though I have a strong tendency for more complex matters. But this album is easy to describe and therefore I won't have to struggle to find the right words to describe a piece of music.
Can I jump directly to the conclusion? If you like the sound of a church organ, total keys dominated music and the Keith Emerson sound within ELP, then this is your album! If not, you'd better stop reading here.
Three Monks, hailing from Arezzo, Italy, is one of the very few bands in the world that have chosen a church organ, or better said pipe organ, as their main instrument; the only other one that comes to my mind now is Pär Lindh. I'm sure Johann Sebastian Bach would have loved their sound were he still to be around these days, but it's not just pipe organ that is featured on this album; supported by a rich dose of additional keys, some drums, electric bass and orchestral percussion the final sound is even fuller and more bombastic.
Three Monks should actually be called "Two Monks" or "Four Monks" since the band actually consists of just 2 people, Paolo "Julius" Lazzeri on neo-gothic organ & synthesizers and Maurizio "Bozorius" Bozzi on electric bass. On this album they're assisted by Claudio "Ursinius" Cuseri on drums on tracks 1, 2 and 5 and Roberto "Placidus" Bichi on drums & orchestral percussion on tracks 3, 6 and 7. Lazzeri has been active in the prog scene for decades and studied romantic classical music; symphonic and solo organ. He has mentioned as his greatest influence the composer Julius Reubke (1824-1858).
With the aim of combining classical music (neo-Gothic style, German Romanticism of the nineteenth century) with progressive rock he founded this band which released its first record in 2010, Neogothic Progressive Toccatas, a title that clearly indicates its content. And this is the follow-up; more of the same lush, classical influenced, bombastic instrumental songs with the pipe organ in the main role.
The risk, that easily occurs with such a concept, is that it'll become tedious and boring after a while is partly avoided by the addition of the aforementioned other instruments, but if you're not really keen on the sound of the organ and additional keys I doubt that you will be able to listen through the whole album.
Heavy and bombastic almost the whole way through, don't expect mellow tunes of fine thin-threaded melodies, but a keys extravaganza in full throttle. The virtuosity of the playing enhances the enjoyment of anyone addicted to this particular sound and apart from the restriction in variation that this concept offers I have nothing to complain about this album.
This album is mainly interesting for the keys-lovers and, most of all, pipe organ addicts and lovers of classically influenced progressive rock. References like ELP, Pär Lindh Project, Areknames and Anekdoten come to mind.
Only because this album will be of interest to a rather limited group of people I won't give it a general recommendation, but be sure I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Forest Field - Pioneers of the Future
This is an interesting one. Firstly it's not a band, it's a project by Chinawhite guitarist Peter Cox who plays pretty much everything that's on the disc. describing this as Ambient progressive rock, The album is conceptual in that it places seven instrumental tracks (one to represent each day of the week) with six vocals tracks that are all thematically linked to the concept of "Time” and especially whether we are prisoners of the past or pioneers of the future. So a nice light concept then, eh?! So lets commence...
I'm not at all familiar with Chinawhite, the band that is Peter's normal musical vehicle, so I come to this disc free of any opinions and am keen as always to give the music fair chance to reveal its magic. I like the idea of how the album is balanced mixing instrumentals and vocal pieces making for an interesting listen, however it does also break up the flow of the album a little in that styles and approaches differ between them, with a lighter gentler (more ambient even) instrumental being followed by a harder sounding song. In truth this isn't as "Ambient" as it proclaims, in fact in parts it is quite an intense and heavy album with a fairly dense sound (more about this later).
The opening instrumental Too Many Mondays is simply atmospheric keyboards which gently leads you into Imaginary Queens which opens with a bass riff and some spacey keyboard beeps before Peter's arpeggio guitar lines come in with a very "European Rock" styled voice (nothing wrong with that either may I add). This leads into a brief solo from Peter and the song wouldn't sound out of place on many modern rock albums to be honest. Tuesday I Think opens with more synth washes and an understated piano before bass joins in playing melodically in a slower paced piece that is actually quite effective overall. Phoenix for the Sunrise follows, opening with sequenced keyboards and bass before the vocals come in which aren't the greatest in the world but they fit the song fine, the middle instrumental section is however very melodious and interesting although the mix could do with being clearer and less cluttered as it all sounds a bit murky at times. The song features another fine Peter Cox solo and overall this is pretty good. Wonderful Wednesday is another short instrumental but the sound is somewhat distorted which spoils the ambience of the gentle acoustic guitar being played over supporting keyboards. Set Me Free is up next, another vocal piece opening with some bass and drum work before a jangly guitar joins in. Phil Vincent is singing on this one and it's a good performance all round as the song has a groove to it that works well, in fact this is one of my favourite pieces on the disc. It has a good chorus as well. Thursday Thunder is a mixture of piano and keyboards but set against soaring guitar lines, again pretty short and doesn't overstay its welcome.
Looking for Someone opens with organ and acoustic guitars, Peter Cox is singing on this and he doesn't have the voice to match his guitar skills, which on this track are pretty fiery. There is a lot of riffing going on here and his vocals are somewhat buried in the mix but there is a nice harmony solo on this one though. Freaky Friday mixes guitar driven melody with keyboard washes and a bass solo which is over the top and not outstanding but listenable. Time opens with what sounds like a Theramin against heavy riffing guitars and keyboards before Phil Vincent's vocals come in. Again this is pretty much European hard rock with a similar style vocal. The chorus is strong and melodic though and the song features a good middle eight and bridge segment plus an elegant guitar break towards the end making it one of the more varied tracks on offer here. Lazy Saturday Swim is the penultimate instrumental track and it is pretty ambient really, in fact not a great deal happens but it's still a good piece. Places Never Seen is the last vocal track and this time the vocals are from Aukje and Joris Peeters. It's a mid-paced song with lots of arpeggio guitar and a suitably histrionic guitar break at the 3:00 minute mark.
It's not a great song nor is it entirely bad, it's just that it sounds too cluttered to these ears. In fact, if there's one thing that stops this album being better it's the production which is simply not very clear or distinct and there is insufficient separation between the instruments. This is a shame as it mars some otherwise worthy material that Forest Field have presented. Music of this genre should have space to expand and not be buried in a muddy and murky mix - obviously I realise that there are probably limitations and constraints on the ability of Forest Field to create the sort of soundscape that would make this album so much better. The final instrumental, Serious Sunday brings the disc to a suitable conclusion, playing out with piano and soft keyboards.
So there you have it. I did enjoy this album but I do have reservations about it, especially sonically, but there are some great passages and ideas here and Peter Cox is to be applauded for his efforts. Maybe the next release will be sonically enhanced and therefore better. It is a bit of a European hard rock album and it's not terrifically ambient but it is certainly worth a listen and making your own mind up about.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Peppe Giannuzzi - Violinizer
Violin is not the most commonly used instrument in prog, but most prog lovers have undoubtedly come across some usage with the likes of Kansas, Eddie Jobson in several different shapes and prog folk bands such as Fairport Convention. One of the most conspicuous violin players was and still is Angelo Branduardi from Italy who combined his distinguished voice with classic, folk and sometimes jazzy violin playing.
Because I really like prog bands with a violin in their line-up I was attracted to this new album by Peppe Giannuzzi, an Italian violinist totally unknown to me previously. So I started to listen to Violinizer with an open mind...and decided to walk away from it completely after the first listen. It sounded like a bad sort of muzak to me (are there any good sorts of muzak?). But writing a review after just one listen isn't fair so I took up the courage to listen again - and again and again. And what I couldn't have anticipated first happened; I started to like it...a bit.
100 is a nice opening tune with a rocking violin and lead guitar interplay on a straight rhythm. It gives both Gianuzzi and his guitarist Francesco Fry Moneti their consecutive moments to demonstrate their instrumental skills. Somewhere in the background there are sounds and tunes from Kansas in the after-Power period; not their best period actually.
Second tune Alien Spider Dance makes things worse. It is a fast, simple melody played all on the same volume and intensity which makes it a speedy but far from dynamic track. It really sounds like fast muzak to me and probably this was the tune that made me run from this record at first glance. But Giannuzzi recovers himself with Wind of Africa that features subtle keys and soft violin playing, both in the intro and in the mellow melody itself. Why he adds a bit of scratching in the middle section of the tune remains a mystery to me because it sounds very out of place here. The main melody is quickly taken up again, slightly higher in tune and with double violin playing. It sets the stage for the next couple of songs that are all quite nice in melody, with a medium, not too up-fronted rhythm section and a sometimes waltz-like tempo, especially in Eddy Smile which turns it into a sort of lullaby. With some baby sounds starting off and closing that track there's no need to ask who Eddy is....
Things deteriorate again with 21 Hot Blues. It's one of those tunes that simply doesn't appeal at all, at least not to me. The sound of the violin is adjusted to a sort of yelling and scratching high-pitched tone that plays a very uninteresting piece of bluesy music on a rhythm that comes right out of a computer. The violin and electric guitar interact in just the way you'd expect them to. A very uninteresting filler.
With Impossible Love the violin melody is rather nice but the keyboards sound hopelessly out-of-date. With a strong producer this would probably have been a nice track but now it is just a nice idea that doesn't fulfil its potential at all.
Brother in Music opens with some useless spoken words before an acoustic guitar gets the song on its way. It's a slow tune with some nice piano, some electric guitar that almost sound as if Pendragon's Nick Barrett himself has helped out. It is also the most proggy of the tracks as it meanders in melody and moods. It demonstrates that Giannuzzi can write and play in a more complex way than he does on the rest of the album which makes this tune attractive but also leaves you with the unsatisfactory feeling that it could have been so much better, progwise. And alas, at the end there's another useless vocal section....
The Endless Race has some nice time signature changes, different sounds of the violin and a really nice jazzy piano before the guitar bursts out again in a strong rock-type riff. In just over 4 minutes it demonstrates that it's possible to compose a concise song that expresses different moods, from rock-hard to mellow and from violin to guitar.
The artwork is simple and not appealing, especially because of the use of really ugly-looking fonts. There is little information in the booklet, neither on the artist nor the production so I assume that Giannuzzi has produced the album himself. Soundwise he does a good job although I think the music could have sounded more dynamic by varying the volume a bit more. Yet as a production on his own he deserves a lot of credit.
With a stricter selection of songs the album could have been much stronger. It is an album that shows his ability to play the instrument, to write nice poppy melodies and to give them a faint reminiscence of prog. Giannuzzi never even comes close to his famous violin-playing fellow-Italian Branduardi but yet this is a rather enjoyable album to listen too, especially if you expect an easy-listening instrumental album with different styles. Violinizer is by no means a prog album; therefore the tunes are too simple, too poppy and too predictable. It is an original pop album, nothing more, nothing less.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
7 Ocean - Diapause
7 Ocean, also known as Seventh Ocean, is a melodic progressive rock band from Belarus. The main trio of Alexander Eletsky, Alexander Sofiks and Sergei Starosotsky formed in 2004 reviving a band that was originally started in the late '80s.
The current release, Diapause, is the fourth album since the band's return and follows a three-year break after One Life (2010). As with previous releases, the writing is credited solely to founding member Alexander Eletsky who provides keyboards and is one of the band's main vocalists.
Musically this group from Eastern Europe offers its own laid back version of seventies-influenced Prog Rock that is built around a dominant synth sound, backed by guitar, which for the most part serves to provide rhythm throughout. All vocals on the album are sung in Russian which is an immediate obstacle towards the band gaining a larger audience, particularly in the rest of Europe and the U.S. where Prog is more popular. It may be the lack of reach of Western music in Belarus that influences the development of their sound. Without doubt it feels like it was made for a home-grown market. Their music is for the most part pleasant but generally unremarkable and unambitious. It may be this way because musically it's a safe bet within the confines of the country it comes from.
As a high percentage of music that is broadcast in Belarus (over 70%) has to be of Belarusian origin, it is possible to see the framework that has probably helped to shape - and limit - the scope of the group's sound. The predominance of traditional folk is still a mainstay of the music of Belarus as well as their interest in the Eurovision Song Contest. Both these elements are occasionally recognisable within the band's sound, in particular the vocals which shift from a folk-like tone in places to a little more pop/Eurovision. This is evident in tracks such as Sometime and The Seventh Ocean which has a progressive sensibility with an out-of-place vocal sound that struggles to fit.
It may be a totally unfair assessment of the album to dismiss it outright as there are a few places where the melody, particularly from the keyboards, is well written and has some interesting textures such as that found at the start of Song of the Rain. Where the sound does fall down is the over-use of the programmed effects where Eletsky tries to create a mood or emotion. There are a number of places where the range of patches from the synth switch so much that it seems disjointed. By the middle of the album it becomes especially noticeable.
Structure-wise the songs consistently chop and change melodies, often without any clear linking passage. In some cases, such as Second Song of Darkness, this provides the impression of a medley rather than a cohesive song.
Towards the end of this disc, Song of the Second Lake is perhaps the most evenly presented piece on the record in terms of composition, although towards the end of the eleven minutes it loses its way and the change between vocals and instrumental parts doesn't happen very smoothly at all.
After several plays of this album there isn't a great deal to recommend it. It would really only appeal to a mature Belarusian or Russian audience. On reflection that is the audience to which this music is obviously aimed. If you harbour a curiosity to see how Prog sounds from the Eastern side of Europe it may be a better choice to look at 7 Ocean than Mals (Label) stable-mates Flight 09 from Uzbekistan.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous 7 Ocean CD Reviews:-
|The Mysterious Race Of Strange Entities
|"The CD is genuinely enjoyable to listen to...(but)...based on the flaws I’ve pointed out...I can recommend this one only with reservations."
(Gerald Wandio, 6.5/10)