Album Reviews

Issue 2015-005

The Emerald Dawn - Searching for the Lost Key

The Emerald Dawn - Searching for the Lost Key
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: World End Records
Catalogue #: WERCD1
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 44:06
Info: The Emerald Dawn
Samples: The Emerald Dawn on Bandcamp
Track List:
Beyond the Wall (12:03), Buridan's Lament (10:48), Shadow in Light (10:12), In Search of the Lost Key (11:03)
From the green colour used on the cover, to the inner sleeve illustration depicting staircases of the mind and a long-haired lady with a forest for hair, the music within isn't going to surprise.

The long info letter that arrived with my copy, tells in great detail how The Emerald Dawn consist of a professor of philosophy, an intellectual circus performer, and a "brilliant" young jazz drummer. Searching for the Lost Key is the album's title and with some explanation the info states:

"Two harmonic minor scales over chords with an unsettling minor second demand resolution," etc. etc. Then concludes with: "Is Gb major the lost key?"

I dunno, but what I can tell you is that there are four tracks of organ, string synth, a lead guitar sound that always has the same timbre, and a drum kit that is low in the mix and seems to be following some sheet music, that hasn't worked out how to write fills.

Katrina "Tree" Stewart provides the keyboards and most of the singing. There is reverberation on her voice, on the guitar, and, on Buridan's Lament, a rather grating sax, played by guitarist Ally Carter.

It's this sound mix that feels like they haven't exposed themselves to the outside world, which would explain the slightly plodding, pagan playing, giving me images of oak-paneled professors with leather patches on the elbows, gently nodding in a fug of dope smoke. Long, drawn-out organ and that tissue-box-next-to-the-bed, lead guitar "driven" by Tom Jackson's drums-by-numbers.

The instrumental Shadows in Light slightly improves proceedings, but still feels like the listener is stuck in an underground cave, albeit with something nasty behind that rock.

There is, I suppose, atmosphere here, but this album is verging on prog parody, with "the pictures" it paints, being similar to the cover. Not so much shoe-gazing as sandals-with-socks-gazing, with electricity supplied from the commune's wind farm.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10

Brieg Guerveno - Ar Bed Kloz

Brieg Guerveno - Ar Bed Kloz
Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: BGG 2014
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 42:32
Info: Brieg Guerveno
Samples: Brieg Guerveno on Bandcamp
Track List:
Ar bed kloz (7:34), Al liver (5:31), Traoñ an hent (4:25), Dianket (4:03), Skornet (5:08), Divent (4:21), Den ne oar (7:48), Ar spilhenn (3:25), Bev out atav (5:35), Dor 911 (6:16)
Ar Bed Kloz is the second album from Brittany-based singer, guitarist, songwriter Brieg Guerveno, who performs all his songs in his native Breton language. That said, his music has a universal sensibility that's influenced more by 70s classic rock, than it is Celtic folk.

Whilst traditional instruments, including violin, uilleann pipes and accordion are onboard (courtesy of several guest musicians), it's the three-man line-up of Guerveno (vocals, guitar), Xavier Soulabail (bass) and Joachim Blanchet (drums, keyboards) that drives the music.

Guerveno has a light, airy voice (not unlike Steven Wilson's) that's easy on the ear, as is the title song Ar bed kloz. Opening with strident power chords, it eases into a relaxed acoustic guitar and organ groove, before hitting its stride with a surging chorus and guitar solo to close. Al liver is a mid-paced rocker propelled by Blanchet's refined drumming. Violin is tastefully incorporated, whilst the aggressive guitar-work, harks back to prime Led Zeppelin. Traoñ an hent continues in a similar vein, with strings adding to the sonic melee, whilst the hard-edged Dianket is driven by a crunching guitar riff.

The mood and tempo changes with Skornet; a delicate acoustic ballad with shades of early Genesis and a sweeping string arrangement to close. In contrast, the soaring Divent is driven by Soulabail's hard-as-nails bass line and a compelling guitar riff. The lengthy Den ne oar exudes controlled power, showcasing Guerveno's fine guitar work, before breaking into an energetic sprint around the halfway mark. The acoustic Ar spilhenn has a wistful charm that echoes the ambient style of Tim Bowness. In a similar vein, Bev out atav has a haunting quality, building to a sweeping coda with guitar and uilleann pipes combining to dramatic effect.

Probably my favourite track is the concluding Dor 911, which put me in mind of Joshua Tree-era U2. Guerveno's melancholic vocal is sympathetically accompanied by strummed guitar and accordion. At the midway point it morphs into a completely different song with a choir, that threatens to build to a powerful finale but pulls back at the last minute.

Whist Ar Bed Kloz is perhaps more mainstream hard-rock than prog-rock at times, for me Brieg Guerveno is at his best with the proggier offerings, like Skornet, Divent, Ar spilhenn and Bev out atav. Den ne oar on the other hand borders on prog-metal territory. Either way, every song is of a high standard, benefiting from fine musicianship and excellent production.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Isos - Loving on Standby

Isos - Loving on Standby
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: Download
Record Label: self-released
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 50:41
Info: Isos
Samples: Isos on Bandcamp
Track List:
Loving on Standby (Part 1): I'll Be Waiting (7:59), Loving on Standby (Part 2): Gone Too Far (7:59), A Flicker Of Hope (1:24), Number Two (7:17), Inside Your Collapsed World (5:14), Leave My Mind (6:02), Relapse (8:00), The Last Words (6:46)
ISOS is a solo project by Vincent Leboeuf Gadreau, the guitarist and singer with Quebec-based prog-metallers Inner Odyssey. This album, Loving on Standby, moves away from the prog-metal template (with one exception) into territories where you might find Lunatic Soul, mixed with the less metallic, singer-songwriter side of Porcupine Tree.

Assisting Vincent on the album is Etienne Doyon (drums and percussion), Mathieu Chamberland (piano), Marie Demers (vocals) and Dominique Plante (rhodes and strings).

Loving on Standby is an album that follows the emotional journey of the protagonist, after a nasty break-up. He still wants the object of his love, even though he was cheated-on, and the passing time, has put further distance between them. He finds his emotional life on standby, paralysed by indecision and obsession. The lyrics have a kinship with the confessional, relationship songs that Peter Hammill produces so expertly.

The two-part title track moves, from rumbling bass notes, through a picked guitar melody, that is then developed fully in the vocal melody. Part 1 is an elegant, tuneful paean to emotional stagnation.

A sympathetic keyboard coda leads into Part 2 which brings a change to the dynamics of the song. Using more up-tempo electric guitar, contrasted with slower passages of electric piano and wah-wah guitar, it has a brief touch of 70s funk to it; in a good way. A great guitar solo features towards the end, leading to a riff=driven finale. It's an engaging opening.

The acoustic interlude of A Flicker Of Hope joins the opening tracks with the heartfelt Number Two. This song details how his love interest dangles the possibility of them re-uniting. Lovely, multi-layered vocals, sinewy, twisting guitar lines and echoing reverb, bring to mind some of Lunatic Soul's II album.

The acoustic singer-songwriter opening to Inside Your Collapsed World drags the listener into a song full of pathos. The guest vocal of Marie Demers lifts this, as it builds into a keyboard and acoustic song of quiet beauty.

Morse Code-style bleeping and electronic washes are used inventively throughout Leave My Mind. It has a poignant melody on the acoustic guitar and through the vocal line, as the protagonist finally tries to get over his obsession.

Having been a relatively even album, musically-speaking, mixing confessional acoustics, tasteful electric guitar and keyboards, Relapse brings the noise. On top of a speeding-up, heartbeat pulse of bass synth notes, in crash some heavy guitars, rolling drums and stop-start dynamics. For a short while we kick open the prog-metal door. At first it feels a little out of place, but as a reflection of the protagonist's state of mind, as his obsession threatens to re-surge, it does work well.

The album closes with, The Last Words, a minor-key piano ballad, that has nice synth highlights and delicate electric guitar touches. It changes to a major key in the final two verses, providing a joyful illumination as the hero (spoiler alert) finally moves on from the darkness of his emotional turmoil.

The album as a whole hangs together well and has a good sense of direction, to both its melodies and lyrics. It mixes the electronic touches of Lunatic Soul and the more confessional aspects of mid-period Porcupine Tree, along with hints of neo-prog in the guitar lines and keyboards. It is, however, a little lacking in the vocals. Gadreau has a pleasant, though non-descript voice. So the passions that he sings about, don't quite come over as I feel they should. Maybe the passion would have come across better if it had been sung in French?

There was, however, enough here to make me want to investigate Gadreau's day job with Inner Odyssey. Overall then, Loving on Standby is a good, solid and emotionally interesting listen. I look forward to his next release.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Lavola - This Book Is my Cowardice

Lavola - This Book Is my Cowardice
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Info: Lavola
Samples: Lavola website
Track List:
Show Your Face, Motherfucker (4:40), Dry Socket (4:35), An Orchestral Balancing Act (2:38), Healing Eye (4:30), Pearl and Rust (6:32), Watch Your Step (4:47), 7 Steps to Hell (6:33), Please Excuse the Blood (6:03)
Florida based Lavola call themselves an 'abrasively symphonic indie rock quartet'. Listening to their third album, This Book is my Cowardice, I tend to conclude that as a rather adequate description, especially the 'abrasive' part. They could have used adjectives like dissonant, industrial, chaotic, experimental or post-punk as well.

This young band is fronted by vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Julian Cires and violinist/vocalist Emily Dwyer. If some other musicians have contributed to the album it is hard to find out. The download on which I had to base this review, didn't have any information on the band at all. Neither does the band website. So the good Facebook had to unveil this information. We have Paul DeFilippis on bass and Matt Cabrera on drums.

It took me a lot of time, and certainly a lot of effort to digest this album. It is loud, dissonant, screamy, loud again, provocative and not melodic at all. Symphonic? No way, even with the sparse use of a melodic instrument like a violin. Instead there are ample ugly samples and sounds, that form intros or outros of the songs, followed by distorted guitars, stomping basses and much slamming on the high-hats.

Show your face, motherfucker starts with some ambient noises, then a loud electronic bell rings and the band bursts into a Roxy Music-like song. That sounds quite nice, albeit the vocals are too far back in the mix. It ends in a cacophonic noise, that is not nice to hear at all.

In Dry Socket a children's choir is used to fade out the song, and that is the most melodic you'll hear for about the first ten minutes. You then come to a song called An Orchestral Balancing Act, which may make you expect something in that vein, but instead you get distortion, distortion and some more distortion, accompanied with some wordless, choir singing. Healing Eye has so much distortion in the song, that I started to wonder if I could make it to the end of the album. I didn't...

Listening later to the other songs, brought me more distortion, more loud guitars and drums, more lack of melody and the overall feeling of the Sex Pistols trying to merge some violin into their punk. A combination guaranteed to fail.

The high-pitched vocals by Cires, in a tone very reminiscent of Budgie's Burke Shelley or, somewhat more distant, Aragon's Les Dougan or Gazpacho's Jan Henrik Ohme, are primarily screams (fortunately not grunts). The exception, is the album closer, Please Excuse The Blood which does have a melody, some nice, atmospheric harmony vocals and an attractive song structure; at least until halfway through the song. Then the punk takes over again, with fierce guitars, drums and bass but no more distortion, which makes it acceptable.

The rest of the album is quite appalling and most certainly not progressive, let alone symphonic. It may be a nice listen for metal heads or post-punkers, maybe also for those who like the avant-garde, but for me this is an quick-and-easy-to-forget album.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10

Logos - L'enigma della Vita

Logos - L'enigma della Vita
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD, Download
Record Label: Andromeda Relix
Catalogue #: AND35
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 76:02
Info: Logos
Samples: Logos on Bandcamp
Track List:
Antifona (2:03), Venivo da un Lungo Sonno (9:11), In Fuga (5:42) Alla Fine dell'Ultimo Capitolo (9:21), N.A.S. (7:46), L'enigma della Vita (7:24), In Principio (11:27), Completamente Estranei (7:08),In Quale Luogo si Fermò Il mio Tempo (2:33), Pioggia in Campagna (10:29), Il Rumore dell'Aria (2:58)
After a 13-year gap, Logos return with their frankly terrific new album, L'enigma della Vita (The Enigma of Life). The line-up includes two keyboard players, Luca Zerman and Claudio Antolini, along with Fabio Gaspari (drums, bass, backing vocals), Massimo Maoli (guitars), and a few other guest musicians. This is Italian progressive rock at its best, both symphonic and rocking.

This release combines the best of classic Italian prog (Le Orme, PFM) with the melodic sensibilities of Camel and Genesis. Though keyboards feature heavily in this release, unsurprising given the line-up, this is well balanced by the superb rhythm section (which plays precise and often very funky) and the hard-edged, Hackett-style guitar. In fact, the solo guitar often steals the show, which is no mean feat. It cuts over swathes of organ, mellotron, piano and synths, whenever the melodies and arrangements require.

Every time I have listened to this album, I find new things to praise. I keep waiting for the moment when I go 'Uhmm!, that doesn't quite work', but I haven't found it yet. Luca Zerman's lead vocal is also a treat. Perfectly placed in the mix, he has a dark, charismatic and caramel-rich tone. The obvious subtlety in his singing, makes me want to learn Italian, so I can appreciate those subtleties better.

I could not honestly choose a standout track. They all work so well in themselves, and thematically across the album. The attention to detail is phenomenal. Combined with the superb production, this disc repays close listening.

All the tracks have killer moments, be it the guitar solo in In Principio; the King Crimson-like maelstrom of N.A.S.; the medieval, madrigal-like melody of In Fuga; the piano interlude of In Quale Luogo si Fermò Il mio Tempo, or the keyboard fireworks of Pioggia in Campagna. The tracks work in an organic way; full of grandeur, mixing light and shade, moving from the pastoral to the powerful and back again.

Now we can all play the '...well that bit reminds me of...' to its pointless and reductive conclusion. However, this album mixes a mature love of classic prog, with up-to-date influences and production. It reminds me in that respect of Big Big Train's English Electric: Full Power. In both albums, the love of the prog classics just shines through, without being at all derivative. Had I heard this sooner, this would have been in my top 3 of 2014!

Logos have produced an album that is packed with grandiose, loveable, warmly energetic, deep and beautiful, time-honoured and matchless progressive music.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

Simon McKechnie - Newton's Alchemy

Simon McKechnie - Newton's Alchemy
Country of Origin: UK
Format: cd
Record Label: Voyager Records
Catalogue #: Voyager 4
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 55:30
Info: Simon McKechnie
Track List:
The First Matter (7:50), Miracles of Only One Thing (Emerald Tablet 1) (3:47), The Work Begins (8:50), The Father of All Perfection (Emerald Tablet 2) (3:24), Star Regulus (7:25), Force Above All Force (Emerald Tablet 3) (3:25), Philosophic Mercury (9:14), A Great Secret (3:14), Turning of the Wheel (8:23)
Simon McKechnie has set himself to the task of writing an album based on the great physician Isaac Newton and his, not so widely known, love for alchemy and the wonders and mysteries it keeps. Such a task is not to be taken on lightly.

A resumé as diverse as Simon's, definitely has different parts combined in it, as decent alchemy would ask for. He founded, lead and composed for Azul (a jazz fusion/prog band), he's written a contemporary classical musical for classical ensembles as well as writing latin jazz, writing a musical, writing for BBC Television and has been a guitarist for London-based fado singer Nuno Silva. Simon also released two albums of his own so far, the most recent of which, Clocks and Dark Clouds, is reviewed here.

It should be noted that Simon handles vocals, guitars, bass, percussion and keyboards. He also plays the dulcimer and psaltery, both stringed instruments that fit very well in the musical context. Adam Riley plays the drums and, to enhance the authenticity of the album, Clare Salaman adds nyckelharp and Jan Hendrickse, bass flute. That already makes for a nice amalgam and they fit in very well, as Simon takes us by the hand through the thoughts, philosophies and experiments of Isaac Newton.

It must have been quite a venture to delve into Newton's works and find words that would work in a musical setting, and then to write the music to bring it all together. Reading Simon's own liner notes, he explains that he heard the music in his head while thinking of transmutation and how all things are made of only thing. That already is quite a deep thought. For that reason, it is hard to be but in awe of the music that unfolded in Simon's head.

It's not an easy thing to write. Neither is it easy listening. You won't find any catchy sing-along tunes here. But then again, was that ever the meaning of prog?

Simon has influences as diverse as Chick Corea, King Crimson, Yes, John McLaughlin, Rush and Gil Evans. Apart from that, he mentions classical composers including Bartok, Schoenberg and Messiaen as influences.

That, and the subject of the album, perhaps does call for a strange brew. Simon takes us on a voyage through the views on alchemy and does so daringly. In nine tracks, which quite vary in length, his music makes for a journey that is almost like alchemy. And like alchemy, it experiments.

That is what is quite striking about this album. Where a lot of records can be played on a track-by-track basis, it appears that the very essence of this one comes from listening to it as a whole. There is so much happening in the tracks, lyric-wise, atmosphere-wise and music-wise, it would be hard to just grab them out of the sequence on the album. In that way, strange as it may seem, it resembled Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain. That album also has a feel, that can be experienced at best when the album is heard as a whole.

The first two tracks, The First Matter and Miracles of Only One Thing (Emerald Tablet 1), make for a fine introduction to the album. The jazzy Crimson and Yes-like tracks, sort of find their own way, or so it seems, with bass and guitar leading like Howe and Squire used to, back in the grand old days.

The gentle and subtle use of dulcimer and psaltery on the album give it a very authentic feel. The first track weaves its path in a somewhat quirky way, yet in regards to the subject, Simon has composed fine music to accompany it.

The subtlety that the ancient instruments provide, are also noticeable in Simon's guitar playing. This is not an album that is about shredding, it is about exploring. The wandering guitar part that Steve Howe added to Queen's Innuendo springs to mind as giving an idea of how the songs sometimes seem composed. Don't think of a copy of that solo, but more of the way the guitar seems to find its own way.

That said, the Queen reference is also there in Simon's vocals. At least, in the way some of his vocal stylings work out. They have a Freddie Mercury-like feel sometimes. When Simon uses a distorted effect on his voice, like in The Work Begins, one cannot help but think of Freddie using a similar distortion. Another comparison to Simon's voice, is that of Gavin Hayes, the Dredg vocalist. Yet, the music is absolutely different from both Queen and Dredg.

The album has quite a lot to tell. That might be a small point of criticism, as the songs all are very wordy. Not that the lyrics needn't be there, but listening to the lyrics does make it hard sometimes to stay in touch with the music (and vice versa). I can understand fully that there is a complex story to tell, yet with the music also being complex, it might be hard on listeners to get both at the same time.

Still, if you are open-minded and would like to immerse you both in the genius that was Isaac Newton and in the musical world of Simon McKechnie, you are in for a treat. The alchemy that he has used and put to music, has proven to be an intricate, yet enjoyable brew.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

PFM (Premeria Forneria Marconi) - Paper Charms

PFM (Premeria Forneria Marconi) - Paper Charms
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD + DVD
Record Label: Esoteric
Catalogue #: mancd 31014
Year of Release: 2014
Time: Disc 1: 55:35
Disc 2: 59:13
Info: PFM (Premeria Forneria Marconi)
Samples: PFM (Premeria Forneria Marconi) website
Track List:
Disc 1: Celebration (6:59), Four holes in the ground (7:49), Dove Quando(6:426), Mr Nine till Five (4:28), Alta Loma Five till Nine (including PFM's arrangement of Rossini's William Tell Overture (17:00), La Carrozza Di Hans (12:37)
Disc 2: Paper Charms (9:37), Out of the Roundabout(8:17), Four Holes in the Ground (13:55), Dove Quando (5:10), Alta Loma 5 till 9 (7:22), Chocolate Kings (4:43), Alta Loma (reprise) (7:29), William Tell Overture (2:43)
DVD: Four Holes In the Ground (Whistle Test October 1974), Celebration, Mr. Nine till Five (Whistle Test May 1975), Chocolate Kings (Whistle Test October 1976)
I don't know where or when I first heard PFM, whether it was on Alan Freeman's Saturday Rock Show on BBC Radio One (back when it played real music, rather than the sanitised crap it churns out nowadays) or elsewhere.

But I do recall the track that I heard, was in fact Celebration from PFM's Cook album, which places it sometime late in 1974. Since then, I've held onto my vinyl copy of Cook until it got a decent release on CD. Thanks to those good people at Esoteric, that happened in 2012 when they reissued the whole PFM Manitcore catalogue (bar Cook), all remastered and with bonus tracks. Cook emerged a year later as a deluxe box set. It was a glorious reissue programme, done with care and consideration.

Now Esoteric has done it again, by releasing this set of the PFM BBC in Concert recordings plus a DVD of the band's Old Grey Whistle Test performances from 1974, 1975 and 1976.

So two whole shows and oh what a treat this is. In short, what you have is an alternative live version of Cook (minus Just Look Away). By alternative I refer to the PFM Live in Nottingham University disc that accompanied the reissue of the Chocolate Kings album. The set list is identical.

What shines through on both discs, is the sheer versatility and quality of the music that PFM were creating at the time. The major difference between the shows is the vocals of Bernardo Lanzetti. His voice is somewhat of an acquired taste, as he had a vibrato not unlike Roger Chapman of Family, which changed the vocal styling of the band, even though he had a better grasp of English than the others. What hadn't changed at all, is the quality of their live performances. They charge through this material with aplomb and power.

The first disc, from 1975, showcases the pre-Cook era material, opening with a magnificent Celebration. It is a bold move giving your most popular song an airing as the first number, but the show gets even better, with a wonderful version of Four Holes in the Ground, powered by the soaring moog synth of Flavio Premoli and reminding you what an excellent song this truly is. Also of note is the stunning version of Mr Five Till Nine, with some very jazzy guitar lines from Franco Mussida. As always, the show ends with the PFM version of Rossini's William Tell Overture, which, if you are a connoisseur, means you can hear it and not think of the lone ranger!

The second disc from 1976, features tracks from the Chocolate Kings album, of which Paper Charms and Out of the Roundabout show a more jazzy side of PFM and the direction they would take with their next release, Jet Lag. Again, this is another top notch show and it's a pleasure to hear it again.

The DVD is short, but features several great performances of PFM classics, including a great Celebration / Four holes in the Ground from 1975 with stage outfits which nowadays look somewhat dated. Sadly one can remember those days perfectly and one was probably guilty of such fashion crimes too, although in a decade that has seen the fashion statement that is the "Onesie", maybe those halcyon days weren't so bad after all. Musically, on the strength of this fine collection, I'd say they were glorious times indeed.

I'd heartily recommend this release, but Cook is to these ears slightly superior and possibly their definitive live statement. Even so, listen and enjoy for yourselves and kudos to the lovely people (Mark and Vicky) at Esoteric for making this release happen at all. The care and attention to detail and their commitment to producing such fine quality reissues should be noted, applauded and supported.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Il Segno del Comando - Il Volto Verde

Il Segno del Comando - Il Volto Verde
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: cd
Record Label: Black Widow Records
Catalogue #: BWR 161
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 55:40
Info: Il Segno del Comando
Track List:
Echi dall'Ignoto (2:08), La Bottega delle Meraviglie (3:41), Chidher il Verde (6:06), Trenodia delle Dolci Parole (6:40), Il Rituale (1:32), La Congrega dello Zee Dyk (8:02), Il Manoscritto (6:16), L'Evocazione di Eva (4:27), Retrospettiva di un Amore (4:37), Usibepu (6:16), L'Apocalisse (4:08), Epilogo (1:47)
Italian bands come in all sorts and sizes. There are those that relate to the grand days of PFM and Le Orme, that find their influences amongst the classic symphonic rock bands in the vein of King Crimson, Yes, ELP and Genesis, and there are those that hark back to the darker parts of the seventies, when bands like Goblin and Jacula loomed large, with music far more gothic than what so-called goth bands today would have us believe is goth.

Such music is not just the music of the past, as Antonius Rex proves. Their 2013 album Hystero Demonopathy was also reviewed in these pages; you can find the review here.

That album delivered the horrific goods throughout the album and easily could have passed for a soundtrack to a horror movie. Here the music shares dark vibes, more as part of the music, instead of being the dominant mark on the album. True, the album has an undeniably dark sound, yet what shines through is the way that Il Segno del Comando has succeeded in recreating the sound of the seventies.

True, the drumming, bass and guitar lines sometimes show that the band are of a younger generation. The fast drumming parts of Chidher il Verde might have been used in the seventies, but it would be rather exceptional. The bass lines are remarkable in the way they are a firm base (sic) to the whole of the album and are far more prominent than you would expect in seventies music. As for the guitar lines, particularly in the solo runs, it can be heard that the guitarist has had quite inspirations, much of which wasn't around in the seventies either.

This however is not meant as a negative critique. Il Segno del Comando has a way of incorporating their techniques and influences into this still very much seventies-sounding, dark yet shiny brew, that Il Volto Verde is.

Diego Banchero, who is the artistic director of the band as well as playing the bass, keyboards and the theremin, has written the greater part of the album, with only the first track written and played by Freddy Delirio, who is the keyboardist of Death SS.

It might take some time to get into the music, as not everyone might care for darker music or the use of operatic voices. Still, once this album has had several spins, you get enthralled by the vibes that the band puts in the music. Il Manoscritto might incorporate all that Il Segno del Comando wish us to listen to, as here we find seventies guitar sounds, operatic voices and a dark vibe, all at once. Yet, the album as a whole deserves a listen. If you want to travel back to the days of yore, with a band that knows and breaths the feel of Italian darker music of those days, then let Il Volto Verde invite you to a trip back. It is a trip well worthwhile.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

The Sixxis - Hollow Shrine

The Sixxis - Hollow Shrine
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD, Digital
Record Label: Glassvile
Catalogue #: GVR015
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 45:03
Info: The Sixxis
Samples: The Sixxis on Soundcloud
Track List:
Dreamers (4:42), Long Ago (4:54), Nowhere Close (3:28), Home Again (3:27), Forgotten Son (4:11), Waste Of Time (3:03), Coke Can Steve (3:53), Opportune Time (3:15), Out Alive (5:38), Weeping Willow Tree (4:57)
After releasing a well-received EP, Hollow Shrine is the debut album from this quintet of experienced musicians from Atlanta, Georgia. A relatively new addition to the Glassville stable (Gazpacho, Riverside, No-man, et al), some may have already seen them as support on last year's European tour by Spock's Beard. They've also turned-up alongside the likes of The Winery Dogs and Wishbone Ash.

Having given this album plenty of time to work its magic, I must say that I'm gonna sit on the fence a little. It's in no way bad, most of the tracks are built around a good melody and groove, there are some nice syncopated rhythms and time signatures, and the vocals by Vladdy Iskhakov, and the production are very solid.

There are two standout tracks for me. The opener, Dreamer, raises expectations (perhaps too much) with a strong vocal melody, laid over an engagingly-groovy, dark, looping riff. A similar styling, leaves a similarly positive impression of Opportune Time.

The band seems to take its main influences from the guitar rock bands that were big in the USA in the 80s. The groovy attitude of Aerosmith is commonly brought to mind when I listen to this album, as were a whole host of hair metal bands - albeit there is a much darker vibe to The Sixxis sound. Muse may be another comparison.

There are some subtle changes between tracks, but on the whole each song stays within its basic style. Solos are kept to a minimum, the alleged synths are barely noticeable and with an average length of four minutes, there is little space for a song to evolve. The use of a violin and acoustics on Waste of Time really offers the only deviation from the mid-paced rock this band seems to favour. It is cohesive though.

I can see this working well in a live setting, but for those who like a bit more adventure (prog) in their music, I can not hear too much to get excited by here.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Super String Theory - An Invention For Times Like These

Super String Theory - An Invention For Times Like These
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 46:16
Info: Super String Theory
Samples: Super String Theory on CD Baby
Track List:
An Invention for Times Like These (4:49), Arrival of A New Boss in His Kick Ass Nova (5:43), Indignity of the Belt Tightener (6:32), Appeal Of Institutional Bread (4:16), Machine (3:03), Gear Tooth (5:55), Fourth Floor (4:21), Bell Whistle – Get Down (3:05), Kingdom of Whatever (4:58), Steps (3:34)
This appears to be the third album from this Missouri-based band, and it is an entirely instrumental album of guitar-based fusion, albeit on the heavier end of that particular spectrum. The band is a three-piece of Aaron Roten (guitar) John Anderson (drums) and Rick Stansfield on bass.

Together they lay down some seriously chunky and yet funky grooves across this album of 10 tracks. Opening with a bottom-end heavy riff and proceeding to shred in a manner not dissimilar to Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, yet always with a melodic verve, this is a guitar-fest for fans of that genre.

It's not all heavy metal flailing though, as Arrival of a New Boss opens with some delicate and almost lazy arpeggio runs, before adapting a more muscular tone, before harkening back in a juxtaposition of sounds, which is very effective and unusual.

Indignity of the Belt Tightener is a slow-burning, bass-heavy groove track and also the longest piece on offer. It is full of stop-start moments and some wild soloing throughout.

Gear Tooth has a good use of dynamics and some lighter passages as well. Throughout the album the bass is busy, underpinning the rhythm, and the drummer makes full use of his (presumably) double-bass pedal for the faster passages.

Fourth Floor brings a welcome change of pace, as it uses a classical guitar to good effect, along with some marching drum patterns. It's a rather catchy riff that is used throughout this piece, and one cannot help but admire the obvious techniques these guys have.

Bell Whistle employs a wah wah pedal to change the sound a little, before the shredding starts again. It's effective and breaks up what could be mundane guitar histrionics.

Steps is another departure track, in that it employs a lot of subtle, textural guitar lines to great effect, which are set against a simple, yet effective, backing track.

There is some astounding guitar playing on here. Although it can be excessive to take in one sitting, there is a genuine talent in this band.

I think this will most likely appeal to guitar-shred fans, although it has a progressive bent, in the use of differing time signatures and tones. However for me this is not essential, so it's a 5/10. I'd like to hear this in a more song-orientated affair next time.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
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