Album Reviews

Issue 2017-077

Blackmore's Night - To The Moon And Back

Blackmore's Night - To The Moon And Back
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 74:48, 34:05
Track List:
CD 1: Shadow Of The Moon (5:07), Spirit Of The Sea (4:53), Renaissance Faire (4:18), Play Minstrel Play (4:01), Under A Violet Moon (4:24), Spanish Nights (5:22), Fires At Midnight (7:35), Ghost Of A Rose (5:42), Cartouche (3:44), Village Lanterne (5:11), The Circle (4:50), 25 Years (4:56), Dandelion Wine (5:39), Home Again (live) (9:04)
CD 2: I Surrender (bonus track) (4:10), Moonlight Shadow (2017 version) (2:51), Somewhere Over the Sea (2017 version) (4:36), Writing on The Wall (2017 version) (3:32), Coming Home (2017 version) (3:11), Ghost Of John (bonus track) (3:34), Minstrel Hall (2:37), Possum Goes To Prague (1:12), Durch den Wald zum Bach Haus (2:33), Nur eine Minute (1:04), Village Dance (1:55), Land Of Hope And Glory (2017 single version) (2:43), Bonus video
Although I was a Deep Purple fan circa 1970-1971, progressive rock soon took me down a different path and I took little interest in the band's career after that, including that of Ritchie Blackmore. Rainbow were hard to ignore of course (if only for the hit singles and the Kashmir clone Stargazer) but the music of Blackmore's Night totally passed me by (until now), even though they've been around for 20 years and released 10 studio albums. This 2 CD retrospective is a 'Best Of' (although far from comprehensive) selection of tracks from their output thus far.

The 1997 debut album Shadow of the Moon set the pattern, with original songs penned by Blackmore and singer/partner Candice Night, mixed with cover versions and traditional tunes. They describe their music as Renaissance folk-rock, which must have certainly tested the allegiance of Purple and Rainbow fans. To emphasis their musical intent, in the publicity photos they dress like wandering minstrels from the late middle ages, and judging by the YouTube videos their audiences are inclined to do the same.

Nine studio albums followed the debut, and this collection draws from most of them, although curiously the trio of albums from 2006 to 2010, namely Winter Carols, Secret Voyage and Autumn Sky are unrepresented. With the conspicuous exception of the UK, album sales have remained respectable throughout their career, especially in Germany where Blackmore's star has always shone bright.

As a newbie to Blackmore's Night, first impressions are positive, in fact I would go as far to say they are a revelation. Candice's voice is an obvious focal point with a heavenly confidence that's impossible not to like. Heather Findlay, Olivia Sparnenn and Joanne Hogg are obvious comparisons. Acoustic guitar, keyboard orchestrations and a sprinkling of vintage instruments (hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, recorder etc.) provide a rich, full-bodied backdrop.

The songs themselves are infectiously catchy for the most part, crossing seamlessly from mainstream, to folk-rock, not unlike The Corrs. There is nothing here that wouldn't sound out-of-place on daytime BBC Radio 2 with mostly uplifting tunes interspersed with folk ballads. Whilst not overtly proggy, there are traces of Mostly Autumn, Gordon Giltrap, Mike Oldfield, Renaissance, Iona and Jethro Tull amongst others, to pique the interest of genre fans, particularly the intricate instrumental interplay.

Highlights for me on CD1 include Play Minstrel Play, with guest Ian Anderson blowing a storm on flute, the aptly titled Spanish Nights with Blackmore's delicate classical guitar intro contrasting with lively violin and mandolin, and the orchestral drama of Ghost Of A Rose. The slow burning, Oldfield-ish Village Lanterne is perhaps the standout track and Blackmore even indulges in some (incongruous) blues guitar shredding during the mini-epic Fires At Midnight.

The final (and longest) track on disc 1, a live version of Home Again is one of those 'you had to be there to appreciate it' performances. The band are clearly enjoying themselves, Candice is on top form and the audience are loving it, but with the inclusion of hackneyed standards like Hora , Drinking Song and The Happy Wanderer, it's more akin to a pub sing-along than a rock gig.

CD2 has only 35 minutes of music but it does include a "Bonus video", although unfortunately this was omitted from my promo copy, so I'm unable to comment on its content or quality. Otherwise, after the consistency of CD1 it's very much an 'odds and sods' affair including covers (Surrender and Moonlight Shadow), a jig (Coming Home), the obligatory new song (Ghost Of John), several acoustic guitar pieces (in a similar vein to Anthony Phillips' Private Parts & Pieces releases) and a less-than-inspired Land Of Hope And Glory (The Enid did it so much better).

Surrender is close to the Rainbow version, with Candice proving she can rock with the best of them, whilst in contrast a tranquil Moonlight Shadow slows the Oldfield original down to a leisurely pace. And if like me you are more familiar with Blackmore as a hard-rock riff merchant, then the acoustic instrumentals (Minstrel Hall, Possum Goes To Prague, Durch den Wald zum Bach Haus, Nur eine Minute and Village Dance) may well surprise (and impress). The dexterity of his playing throughout is comparable with Gordon Giltrap and Steve Hackett.

Whilst this collection does have its shortcomings, overall it's an excellent introduction to the world of Blackmore's Night. If melodic rock (or indeed melodic prog) with a touch of folk is your thing, then it's unreservedly recommended. With tuneful songs, a strong and compelling lead voice and superb musicianship (not least from Mr Blackmore himself), it's a winning formula.
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10

Eloy - The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre, Pt. 1

Eloy - The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre, Pt. 1
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 62:30
Track List:
The Age Of The Hundred Years' War (4:19), Domremy On The 6Th Of January 1412 (1:48), Early Signs... From A Longed For Miracle (4:12), Autumn 1428 At Home (0:56), The Call (5:51), Vaucouleurs (4:35), The Ride By Night... Towards The Predestined Fate (3:30), Chinon (9:46), The Prophecy (4:40), The Sword (5:54), Orléans (4:25), Les Tourelles (7:24), Why? (5:11)
It's own-up time. Although Eloy have been around for nearly half a century and I've been a prog-rock fan throughout that period, this is the first Eloy album I've listened to (in it's entirety at least). It's also their first in eight years and only their second since the turn of the century. As such, it's a cause for celebration for the dedicated fan-base that have stayed with the band since those early days.

Although they've had an ever changing line-up since their 1971 self-titled debut album, a constant factor has been founder and frontman Frank Bornemann, as well as the band's logo which is as synonymous to Eloy as Roger Dean's snake-like swirl is to Yes. As with previous releases, Bornemann is responsible for compositions and production.

The opening song, The Age Of The Hundred Years' War, begins with an electronic drone, ethereal choir voices and heavy percussion. So far, so very cinematic. It certainly sets the tone of the album, the first part of a concept based on the life of Joan of Arc. The second and final part is already in the planning stages.

Bornemann doesn't have a particularly strong voice, performing in a half-sung, half-spoken style for the most part, but he makes good use of backing singers and the occasional female lead. His guitar style is edgy, in contrast to the synths which have a distinct 1980s retro quality courtesy of keyboard duo Michael Gerlach and Hannes Folberth. Particularly impressive is the muscular drumming and upfront bass lines from the rhythm partnership of Kristof Hinz and Klaus-Peter Matziol.

The overall style is symphonic prog with a pinch of space rock, with Pink Floyd in particular an obvious influence. The music is interspersed with spoken sections (in perfect English I might add) including a female voice portraying Joan of Arc herself. Whilst this is clearly intended to advance the narrative, for me it distracts from, rather than enhancing the flow of the album. Songs in my opinion should be sufficient to tell a story without the hindrance of a commentary.

On the plus side, the arrangements are suitably moody and atmospheric at times, such as the throbbing synth and bass line of The Ride By Night, which could have come from the pen of soundtrack composer Brad Fiedel (best know for his Terminator score). The Prophecy boasts a soaring female soprano, whilst the anthemic The Sword benefits from a rousing chorus and keyboard orchestrations, which would not sound out of place in a musical like Les Misérables.

The latter part of the album is especially Floydian, including the slow burning Chinon, the children's choir during the aforementioned The Prophecy, and guest vocalist Jessy Martens' wordless chant that closes the final song Why?. The latter is clearly a nod to Clare Torry's legendary performance on The Great Gig In The Sky from The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Overall this is a well put together album, high on atmosphere, with strong production values and first rate musicianship. It will be interesting to see if the same standard can be maintained for the follow-up, which hopefully will not be another eight years down the road.
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10

Jethro Tull - The String Quartets

Jethro Tull - The String Quartets
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 48:05
Track List:
In The Past (Living In The Past) (4:10), Sossity Waiting (Sossity, You're A Woman/Reasons For Waiting) (4:45), Bungle (Bungle In The Jungle) (3:49), We Used To Bach (We Used To Know/Bach Prelude C Major) (4:54), Farm, The Fourway (Farm On The Freeway) (3:44), Songs And Horses (Songs From The Wood/Heavy Horses) (3:53), Only The Giving (Wond'ring Aloud) (1:58), Loco (Locootive Breath) (4:33), Pass The Bottle (A Christmas Song) (3:02), Velvet Gold (Velvet Green) (4:06), Ring Out These Bells (Ring Out, Soltice Bells) (3:56), Aquafugue (Aqualung) (5:13)
In the publicity blurb for The String Quartets, Ian Anderson proclaims that the album is "perfect for lazy, long sunny afternoons, crisp winter nights, weddings and funerals". Herein lays one of the major issues that surround this release.

The album has possibly been created with that set of criteria in mind, and this constraint has arguably ensured that the majority of the arrangements lack any real sparkle, innovative parts, or display a cutting edge. It politely and sedately invites you into a musical world that is at best frequently unremarkable and monochrome in its creative aspirations, and incredibly safe.

The album consists of 12 well-known Anderson compositions, given new titles to avoid confusion with the originals, and to avoid any issues relating to royalties. The orchestrations were composed by the long-standing former Jethro Tull keyboardist and current Ian Anderson band member John O'Hara. The album features the Carducci String Quartet with additional performances from Ian Anderson on flute and occasional vocals, and John O'Hara on celeste and piano.

The playing throughout, as might be expected, is exemplary and very impressive. John O'Hara's gorgeous piano part in We Used to Bach takes the piece to unexpected and rewarding territories, far removed from the original. His beautifully structured contribution in this piece is particularly moving and is one of the highpoints of the album.

The flute playing of Anderson is another highlight. For most of the album he is in melodic mode. His flowing lyrical style is in full evidence, and perfectly complements the classical arrangements. On the occasions when a more aggressive, overblown approach is called for, as during the accustomed flute break in Loco, this is handled with Anderson's customary breathy panache.

The album is carefully and impressively packaged. It contains extensive notes about the project and the recording process. The notes state that the album offers Tull fans the opportunity to enjoy familiar melodies and songs, within the stylings and traditions of classical music.

The album works best on the two tunes which feature the Carducci String Quartet alone. Both Songs And Horses and Velvet Gold are imaginatively different to the originals. Consequently, they are more satisfying, and are able to hold the attention much better than many of the other pieces on the album.

Nevertheless, disappointingly, a number of the other pieces do not sound nearly as fresh. The inclusion of well-worn vocals on six of the tunes did not appear necessary and merely created a familiar point of reference to the originals. In reality, the contrast between the vocals of the original versions, and the fragile, weakened voice featured on this disc was quite sad, but did provide the music with a certain frail humanity and worldly vulnerability that was quite endearing.

The faithful reproduction of many of the tempos, harmonies and melodies associated with the originals, whilst true to Anderson's original compositions, ensure that the arrangements seldom move too far into unfamiliar territory. In this respect, the album did not need to be so stilted and unimaginative.

The work of reinventing music to suit a particular style, genre or instrumentation can be a successful and highly imaginative process that enriches the legacy created by the original compositions. Béla Bartok's work, has been recently reinterpreted and redrawn by the Brazilian band Dialeto, in their outstanding album Bartók In Rock. Similarly, Bartok's work has been celebrated, performed and rearranged by flautist Adám Török and his Mini Acoustic World band in the recently released Bartók On Rock.

Ian Anderson, with the assistance of David Palmer (Dee Palmer) and latterly John O'Hara, has in the past, had many of his compositions imaginatively orchestrated to create interpretations that creatively and positively added something novel and exciting to the original. The Orchestral War Child Theme that was arranged by Palmer, springs readily to mind.

Dee's work can also be heard to good effect on the spirited arrangement of the Third Hurrah, which came to light as part of the associated recordings in the excellent 40th Anniversary theatre edition of War Child. Similarly, Elizabeth Purnell's arrangement for orchestra of Aqualung, in collaboration with Ian Anderson, which appeared on 2003's Ian Anderson Plays The Orchestral Tull is stunning in its execution, and imaginative in the scope and breadth of its arrangement. John'O Hara's arrangement for Griminelli's Lament, featured in that same album, is not too shabby either.

The creative pinnacle of Anderson's work in a classical mode is, without doubt, his excellent Divinities album released in 1995. It is an album teeming with creative ideas and the orchestrations, created by Anderson and Andrew Giddings, complement the beautiful melodies that are at the heart of many of the tunes featured on this release.

Here lies another of the issues that surrounds the String Quartets album. Divinities, was a concept album that included twelve newly written tunes. The album was artistically bold and full of creative integrity. It did not appear to be constrained by any preconceived notions that the music should appeal to fans of Jethro Tull.

The opposite appears to be the case with this release. No doubt, as noted in the album's sleeve notes, the challenge was to try and present something that was bold and creative, whilst still remaining faithful to the original compositions. However, would it really have mattered if the arrangements were not instantly recognisable? Playing it safe and thereby presenting arrangements that are easily identifiable, and for the most part are faithful to the original tunes, has resulted in an album that some might argue and feel, has traded its artistic integrity, for the hope of gaining better sales figures.

The least successful track of the album is probably Aquafugue. The laboured vocal parts did not contrast well with the, at times, soaring and full bodied arrangement. Similarly, the inclusion of Only The Giving and Pass the Bottle, which for the most part closely follow the arrangement of the originals, but manage to sound vastly inferior, did little to convince or satisfy me.

However, that is not to say that every aspect of the album is a disappointment. The arrangements of Velvet Gold and Songs and Horses are genuinely interesting. Bungle and Farm the Fourway, both contain sections that offer new slants on the originals. The album as a whole serves as a ready-made portal for listeners who might normally only listen to rock or prog, but who want to become acquainted with some of the forms and territories associated with classical music, yet still want something that is reassuringly familiar.

I hope that Ian Anderson's plans for the future, (an album of new original material is slated for release in 2019) add to, rather than diminish this incredibly talented and creative musician's legacy. With regard to The String Quartets album and using the words of Gerald Bostock loosely, I think I might add: "Until then, I really don't mind if I sit this one out!"
Owen Davies: 5.5 out of 10

Roz Vitalis - At Last. Live

Roz Vitalis - At Last. Live
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 43:22
Track List:
Blurred (3:14), Lavoro d'Amore (4:48), The Hidden Man Of The Heart (5:28), Restore Unto Me The Joy (2:07), Ascension Dream (4:02), Mother Of All Rain (4:14), Passing Over (6:57), Passing Interlude (4:04), Se Camminiamo Nella Luce (Excerpt) / Thou Shalt Tread Upon The Lion And Adder (8:28)
Established in 2001 by keyboardist and composer Ivan Rozmainsky, Roz Vitalis has moved from a one-man-band in the avant-prog arena, to the more classically-influenced prog seven-piece that has recorded At Last. Live.

Usually I tend to steer clear of live albums, as I find the audience's whooping, singing and clapping-along quite a distraction. But Roz Vitalis have recorded this show in a small venue with a quietly appreciative crowd. Its acoustic feel is that of a live-in-the-studio recording rather than a gig, and all the better for it. Never having listened to Roz Vitalis before, I found At Last. Live to be a very good introduction to their work.

The album has a warm, organic, chamber prog-rock feel, with melodies that could be ancient folk tunes on one hand, or on the other that of a modern classical composer like Arvo Part. If you need touchstones of the classic prog era for reference, then you would be looking at Camel's The Snow Goose, early Barclay James Harvest, Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett.

There is no grandstanding by the musicians on this album. They use the instrumentation in a spare and delicate way, without ever losing the forward momentum of the melodies. For instance, on Lavoro d'Amore, the tune builds from Ivan Rozmainsky's piano, adding in Vladislav Korotkikh's delicate flute and a restrained guitar solo from one of the band's two guitarists (Vladimir "Energoslon" Semenov-Tyan-Shansky and Vladimir Efimov). But the icing on the cake is the superb, fluid, vibrato-less trumpet of Alexey Gorshkov. The trumpet avoids any jazz touches, producing instead a clear, bell-like, classical tone that elevates further this delightful music. In fact, it is unusual for an entirely instrumental album to avoid throwing in jazz at some point, but this album dodges that particular sound and mood.

There is more of the same throughout this delightful offering. Even when Roz Vitalis rock it up a bit, with the twin guitars of Mother Of All Rain, it still remains in that classical, symphonic prog vein. This is available as a pay-what-you-want release on Bandcamp, so I urge you to go have a listen to this lovely stuff.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10

Schnauser - Irritant

Schnauser - Irritant
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 52:56
Track List:
Spiele mit Katzen (4:21), Chinese Brainworm (Taenia Solium) (4:48), Re-Mortgaging The Nest Of Hairs (4:12), Sorry, You Were Out (1:24), Have You Got PPI? (4:44), How About A Kiss? (4:06), Fail Better (6:35), Hypertension (4:15), A New Atmosphere (8:23), The Monday Club (7:44), Speile-Jangle (2:17)
Frequent listening to Schnauser's most recent release has set in motion an unexpected and curious chain of events.

Leaning over the garden green fence, whilst busily berating my neighbour Mr Addfwyn Cyllell about the state of the world, has become routine! Shouting at the TV in exasperated tones has become an everyday occurrence!

When I was sour 16, I remember reading the back cover of Henry Cow's In Praise Of Learning album. I was struck and fascinated by film maker John Grierson's statement ("Art is not a mirror – it is a hammer") that adorns the bottom right corner.

His take on Brecht, discounts the notion that art is decorative, or is made for its own sake. Grierson believed that art "is a weapon in our hands to see and say what is good and right and beautiful". As an impressionable teen, it was the first time that I had made a connection that music and the arts are not necessarily passive, but can potentially be a part of a catalyst for change.

Chris Cutler's heart-felt lyrics contained in Beautiful As The Moon – Terrible as an Army with Banners ends with the rallying call: "Time Solves words - by deeds Arise work men and seize the future Let Ends Begin". This epic track only reaffirmed a wakening perception of social injustice and the possibility of music as a vehicle for raising awareness of a range of issues.

Schnauser's latest album, Irritant, can hardly be placed or classified as an example of RIO. Nevertheless, it contains more than a whiff of social commentary to make things interesting, and to bring to mind the core message of the statement that made such an impact on me so many years ago.

Much of this album deals with contemporary topics, and matters that contribute to some of the frustrations of being a part of the 21st century. The title of the album is apt; as are some of the band's wry observations on things that might be perceived as irritating and problematic. Tunes such as Chinese Brainworm, Have you got PPI?, and How About A Kiss?, are full of playful melodies that are interlaced with tongue-in-cheek wit and moments of wise insight.

I have enjoyed the work of Alan Strawbridge for many years; in fact ever since his contribution to the Lucky Bishops. As his songwriting has developed, it has become more sophisticated and more rewarding. Strawbridge is credited with the music for one tune, How About A Kiss?; but shares credits with the band, or with keyboard player Duncan Gammon, for the music on a number of the other tunes on offer. Gammon is credited with the music for three of the tunes on the album.

One of Strawbridge's greatest strengths as a tunesmith, is his ability to harness glorious harmonies and ear-friendly choruses in his songs. In this respect, How About a Kiss?, aspects of Fail Better and the gentle vocal refrain in the mid- section of the vitriolic The Monday Club include many of the hallmarks associated with Strawbridge's most endearing work.

I have often wondered what Alan Strawbridge's exposure to the work of Sarah Records might have been. His tuneful melodies that are skilfully garnished with accessible choruses and gentle vocal harmonies, employ many of the overt influences of indie pop and stylistic traits associated with artists such as the Hit Parade that were such an important part of that West Country record label's uniquely identifiable sound.

Irritant displays a cornucopia of different influences from the varied history of English pop and prog, including such stylistically diverse artists as The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Madness, Soft Machine and the Beatles.

Impressive compositions like The Monday Club, and particularly A New Atmosphere, more than adequately showcase Schnauser's ability to hold together a range of seemingly improbable influences. For the most part, they are able to do this successfully, and this is in no small part due to the skill and abilities of all members of the band.

There are times during Irritant when the mix of influences sits comfortably to produce the band's unique sound, and there are times when the music can be overbearing and cluttered, as in the initially satisfying, but ultimately frustrating and overly repetitive Have You Got PPI?

This release includes one instrumental entitled Hypertension. It is a fast-tempo piece that includes some subtle changes of pace, but overall has a main riff and structure that is reassuringly familiar. In in its early stages, it is heavily reliant on the cheek-bulging, reedy sound of a tenor sax. Although it offers no unexpected surprises and flamboyant detours, it displays sufficient quality and unrestrained energy to exert more than enough pressure, to redden the face and quicken the pulse.

The tenor sax plays an important role in the jaunty introduction of New Atmosphere. Stylistically, the tune includes the vibrant complexity of early Soft Machine and the melodic ear tickling of the Beatles. After its upbeat beginning and delightful melodies, the unexpected second part of the tune, evoking memories of Avonmouth docks, defies normal conventions of song writing. Consequently, the piece as a whole has a real progressive edge. When these elements are combined with a lyrical message that has a real pathos, the result is without doubt one of the most interesting pieces on the album.

Overall, I found Schnauser's previous album, Protein For Everyone, to be a more consistent release. It is generally a much more satisfying and rewarding album. The influence and the style of early Soft Machine was much more pronounced in Protein's standout track, the lengthy and excellent Disposable Outcomes, than anything that is on offer in Irritant, and consequently, in my view, this tips the scales heavily in favour of Protein For Everyone.

The addition of saxophonist Dino Christodoulo has arguably altered Schnauser's overall means of expression. There were times during Irritant when I felt that his strident blowing dominated proceedings, and wished that the saxophone had been used more sparingly to subtly embellish the band's distinctive signature sound.

Nevertheless, there is more than enough musical quality on display throughout Irritant to satisfy a wide ranging audience. The instrumental reprise and well-worked development of the album's sleek opener, Spiele Mil Katzen, to close the album works particularly well. Its head-rolling, easy-natured structure and digit-tapping patterns, skilfully and humorously end proceedings, by being able to cheeringly plant a glowing, harvest moon smile upon the face of the listener.

Schnauser's Irritant will no doubt appeal to its intended audience on many different levels. Musically it is often fresh and exciting. The instrumental and vocal arrangements, contained within tunes such as New Atmosphere and The Monday Club, are often genuinely inventive.

The frequent use of punchy, fun-loving, full-bodied tempos led by the saxophone, gives the whole album a reassuring cloak of familiarity, that brings to mind the foot-tapping, hat-tipping rhythms of Madness, and the eccentricity of the Bonzo's. Added to this enjoyable recipe, is Schnauser's consistent ability to insert a quirky vibe into their compositions that is redolent of the indie pop of the early 90s and the psychedelia of the late 60s.

Equally importantly, the album is lyrically adept. The release has the added attraction of being able to astutely and deftly display a raft of humorous observations on the human condition. It is bedecked with thoughtful and pithy lyrics that invite the listener to consider a range of contemporary concerns. These ultimately challenge a listener to reflect and to question.

What more could any discerning music fan wish for?

Maybe Grierson was right after all.

Raging at the radio has become the norm. Writing to the local MP has become a familiar pastime.

Thanks to Schnauser, I am now officially an irritant!
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10

Tangerine Dream - Quantum Gate - Duo Review

Tangerine Dream - Quantum Gate
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 70:46
Track List:
Sensing Elements (13:33), Roll The Seven Twice (6:25), Granular Blankets (5:03), It Is Time To Leave When Everyone Is Dancing (6:36), Identity Proven Matrix (5:18), Non-Locality Destination (9:59), Proton Bonfire (8:25), Tear Down The Grey Skies (6:17), Genesis Of Precious Thoughts (9:10)
Martin Burns' Review
This is Tangerine Dream's first release of new material since the sad passing of Edgar Froese in January 2015. The release of Quantum Gate marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the band by Edgar Froese. Froese also left some instructions about how he wanted the album to sound and provided a concept for this album relating to quantum physics. His widow Bianca Froese-Acquaye, who designed the rather fetching cover art, oversaw the project.

It has been quite a while since I last listened to a new Tangerine Dream album. The last one was the soundtrack to an obscure 2003 German film called Mota Atma, which I like a lot. But I will lay out my cards here. I am not the greatest fan of Tangerine Dream. I have five albums, the above soundtrack along with the soundtrack to Sorcerer, Force Majeure, Phaedra and a double CD 'best of' compilation. It is the soundtrack work that I like the best and are the ones I return to most often. However at time of writing, Tangerine Dream have released 91 studio albums and 51 live albums. So you could say that I am a bit of a lightweight as far as Tangerine Dream's output is concerned.

So will Quantum Gate covert me to being more of a Tangerine Dream listener? Well, for me, the good news is that here they mix shorter soundtrack-style pieces with longer and more expansive ones, though nothing to match the longer items on some of their live albums, or on their works from the early 1970s. It almost completely avoids ambient noodling and has none of the cosmic, avant-garde work that could make their early output a little patience-testing.

It is the second-half of the 70s and the 1980s signature sound of Tangerine Dream, that you find all over Quantum Gate. The sound of layer upon layer of sequenced synthesizers, other keyboards, electronica and percussion from the ivory ticklers Thorsten Quaeschning and Ulrich Schnauss. A welcome addition to the sound, is the violin of Hoshiko Yamane. They produce minimalist, pulsating, interweaving patterns from which rise a widescreen set of super melodies.

The opening track, Sensing Elements, has all this in abundance, moving from quiet synth washes, to increasingly dense, pulsating melodic figures that create a whirlpool of sound. Before you know fully where you are, 13 minutes have flown past. Tangerine Dream do mix things up within a limited envelope. They add techno touches to the part-hypnotic, part-foot tapping Roll The Seven Twice, which could have featured on the thumping soundtrack of the 1998 film Run, Lola, Run. They also have a dance-inflected, poppy gem in the aptly titled It Is Time To Leave When Everyone Is Dancing.

All the tracks on Quantum Gate have a sense of purpose and direction in their highly melodic sequences. If I have a complaint, it is that I would have liked more of the violin, which works particularly well on the closer Genesis Of Precious Thoughts. This is not just an album for the Tangerine Dream uberfan, and it will encourage me to explore some more of their recent work, especially ones featuring Yamane's violin work.

Tangerine Dream's Quantum Gate is a warm and engaging listen. It is a fitting tribute to the band's founder. It says on the rear of the CD cover: "In honour and memory of Edgar Froese", and that honour and memory have been met with a great disc of Tangerine Dream music.
Patrick McAfee's Review
This new release by Tangerine Dream recognises the band's 50th anniversary, but definitely with some level of controversy. When founding member Edgar Froese passed away in 2015, some people, including Froese's son, felt that the band's story should end there. The current members, Thorsten Quaeschning, Hoshiko Yamane and Ulrich Schnauss felt otherwise, as did Edgar's widow, Bianca Acquaye-Froese. Prior to his death, Edgar also stated that he wanted the band to continue and his wishes were followed.

I understand both sides of the argument. Edgar was the leader and one constant in the history of the band. Having him involved always legitimised the use of the name, regardless of who surrounded him. The tenure of the current members only ranges from thirteen (Quaeschning) to three years (Schnauss), but in fairness, change has been a constant in Tangerine Dream. Having employed 23 musicians over the years, this constant evolution plays into the legitimacy of the band continuing at this point. Also, the album began as a series of musical sketches created by Froese before his death, and his fellow musicans accepted the reponsibility of extending his strong musical legacy.

From a review and listening perspective, what ultimately matters is the music, and I went into Quantum Gate with a focus on judging from that perspective only. Froese's musical sense can be heard immediately on the 14-minute album opener, Sensing Elements. With its steady build to an all out sequencer rhythm, it has classic Tangerine Dream written all over it.

There is a sense of melody throughout the album that is truly impressive. Also, the best modern electronic albums mix classic elements with an updated sound, and Quantum Gate fits securely into that category. There are moments that reminded me of the early years of the band, but overall the mood is not significantly retro. There is a diverse and contemporary energy to each track that is distinctive.

If I have a criticism, it is the same one that I've had with other Tangerine Dream releases in the last few decades. Earlier output included more prominent use of guitars which, in my opinion, created a sound unlike any of their musical peers. Ultimate though, this is a compelling and entertainly modern work of electronica.

Debates aside about the validity of the current band, Quantum Gate is a Tangerine Dream album through and through. In fact, it is one of the better releases bearing the moniker in quite some time. If the goal was to carry forward the band's legacy as well as to create an album that would likely make Froese proud, they have absolutely succeeded.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10

The Watch - Seven

The Watch - Seven
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 47:54
Track List:
Blackest Deeds (5:55), Disappearing Act (6:39), Masks (6:27), Copycat (6:19), It's Only A Dream (3:27), Tightrope (7:18), The Hermit (3:57), After The Blast (7:52)
There's an advertisement slogan that has become an idiom within the English language: Does exactly what it says on the tin. And that sums up the Italian band The Watch, with their seventh studio album Seven which, like its predecessors, pays homage in many ways to the Gabriel-era of Genesis.

There's a refreshing consistency, not straying from their blueprint on 70s style prog, and no major surprises (I'm still in therapy after The Earth, Wind and Fire horn section appeared on Genesis's 1981 ABACAB album!). For some die-hards that means not really progressing (heard it all before), but for me it means that I'm kept within my comfort zone. I am very pleased that such a band as The Watch exists and takes the time and effort to produce some great music with that 70s nostalgic edge, reminiscent of early Genesis.

In fact if you are not aware, The Watch in their live shows are a Genesis tribute band. Simone Rossetti has that Gabriel-esque tone that suits those songs extremely well. Check The Watch out if they are in a town near you when they're on tour.

The album itself is book-ended by two great tracks that border on the best they have ever written and produced. The opener Blackest Deeds would make a fine opener for any live show. Replete with standard Mellotron sounds, time signature changes, moods, flutes and a cracking Hackett-style solo towards the back-end, supported by some energetic drums and bass. It is a fantastic song! My kind of prog.

The other book-ender, After the Blast, kicks off with Genesis's ubiquitous style of 12-string guitar arpeggios, flute and vocals. The song picks up pace when the rest of the band enters, including some really nice background synth work. The instrumental passages have some dark moments, with the use of deep sounding synths, before the song 'blasts' forth with a tingling guitar solo supported with Mellotron. It's a case of goosebumps all the way. Things calm down a bit when the vocals re-enter with a background synth accompaniment. Another superb track.

The second track Disappearing Act stands out, as it's primarily an electronic-based song. A slow, dark tempo permeates throughout, supporting the delicate edginess of the vocal delivery by Simone Rossetti. This song could have finished more interestingly but unfortunately the coda does tend to plod (albeit with some lovely, ethereal harmonies) and is screaming out for some sympathetic guitar or synth solos over the repeating, descending musical accompaniment. It is a missed opportunity in my book, but maybe The Watch would see that as being predictable.

Another track that caught my attention is the strummed acoustic song It's Only a Dream. For me this sounds like something that could well have been penned by Genesis (minus the pastiche strings) but never made their From Genesis to Revelation album. A delightful and beautiful song.

The other three songs, Masks, Copycat and Tightrope stick to the blueprint I've mentioned before. Mellotron, jangly 12 and 6-strings, guitar, synth and flute solos, Hammond organ, and great vocals from Simone. All are good competent songs, but they miss that magical something, that the bookend tracks have.

The penultimate track is a reworking of Steve Hackett's The Hermit which featured on his first solo album, 1975's Voyage of the Acolyte. Mr Hackett plays the 12-string on this version. What marked the original version, was the wonderful cor Anglais and flute work, but here Giorgi Gabriel is up to the task of providing some lovely guitar work that results in an excellent reworking of a classic Hackett song.

The Watch fans out there will not be disappointed with this new album. There is a definite consistency to their output and long may they hang on to their blueprint and never be tempted to output dirge like No Reply At All or Me And Sarah Jane. If you are reading this and not aware of The Watch, then listen on Spotify to the first and last tracks of this album to get a taste of their brand of symphonic prog, and never judge anything by only one listening.
Alan Weston: 8.5 out of 10
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