Steve Pilkington - Black Sabbath Song By Song
This is a something of a departure for the DPRP, not only a book review but a book dedicated to those masters of doom metal, Black Sabbath. A lifelong Sabbath fan, the author Steve Pilkington is a regular contributor to the Classic Rock Society and Prog magazines as well as hosting the Sunday night internet radio show A Saucerful Of Prog. I may not share his passion for Sabbath but the early albums, especially Master Of Reality from 1971 remain a guilty pleasure. In those days Sabbath often shared the bill with bands like Yes and ELP which led to Rick Wakeman appearing on the 1973 album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
Song By Song is the latest in a series of books that also includes Pink Floyd, Electric Light Orchestra and Status Quo, albeit by different authors. The title neatly sums up the format with every song and studio album comprehensively appraised. From the 1970 self titled debut featuring Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums) to the fittingly titled 2013 reunion album 13, no song is left unturned. And given how repetitive the material can sometimes be (to my ears at least), it's a testimony to Pilkington's descriptive skills that he is able to give fresh insight into each song. With a chapter dedicated to each album, it's also a book that's very easy to dip in and out of.
As you would expect from a knowledgeable fan, Pilkington's writing is refreshingly free from conjecture and inaccuracies (unlike many music related publications I can think of).And he doesn't shy away from criticism, documenting the highs and lows of each release. Whilst the 80s and 90s saw a succession of big names replacing Ozzy including Ian Gillan, Ronnie James Dio, Glenn Hughes and Tony Martin, it's evident that the original line-up remains the author's favourite. Iommi is rightly acknowledged as the main creative force behind the band and Pilkington comments throughout the book that they are rarely given their due recognition as songwriters and musicians. He also credits Sabbath for their influence on later heavy (metal) hitters like Iron Maiden and Metallica.
At 176 pages, this is not a long book by any stretch, mainly due to the fact that Sabbath released only 13 studios albums. Whilst their output remained consistent during the 70s, 80s and early 90s, there was a gap of 18 years separating 1995's Forbidden and the most recent 13. And surprisingly given their reputation as a live act, they've been poorly served with official live albums and DVDs which Pilkington also covers here. Solo albums are not included and whilst the book charts the development of the band including the breakups and makeups, thankfully Pilkington avoids media style sensationalism. Sharon Osbourne for instance is only mentioned because she first introduced Dio to Iommi and she's the daughter of one time Sabbath manager Don Arden.
A welcome inclusion is 16 pages of colour photographs featuring Pilkington's own album collection including the original flip-top box cover of Master Of Reality which is even more battered than my own well travelled copy. His denim jacket (the garment of choice for every self-respecting heavy metal fan during the 70s and 80s) is also featured, complete with the obligatory embroidered badges including the iconic Black Sabbath crucifix.
Even if you are not a hardcore Sabbath fan this book is highly recommended, particularly for those with more than a passing interest in the origins and development of heavy metal. Pilkington combines meticulous attention to detail with a naturalistic writing style in a book that's both compelling and difficult to put down.
Dusan Jevtovic - Live At Home
With a title that could be used for a YouTube session by a star-dreamed teen, equipped with a newly broken voice and quick fix guitar; it is easy to imagine that Live at Home might contain a musical landscape filled with twee uninspiring angst ridden tunes.
It could perhaps, contain a set of stay at home songs that blandly waft from a moon-mouthed expression; sounding fully flat and open to misinterpretation.
Or it could perhaps, contain a set of tunes created at home; premiered for all to hear and not ignore. Imagine a songbook forged in the singing shower; inspired by self-belief, mum's lavish praise, Aunty Jane's open wallet and granny's dying wish. Each tune waits expectantly for the performance to begin. Each anticipates their turn; naked in unwrapped simplicity, awaiting scrutiny, yet filled with hope.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Dusan Jevtovic's Live at Home exudes skill, maturity, confidence and professionalism in every respect. There is something boldly and daringly creative about Jevtovic's latest release. Live at Home is a superbly-crafted fusion master class. It oozes with heartfelt emotion; containing dashing solo lines and dazzling instrumental passages. As the name aptly suggests it is a live album and was recorded on the 23rd December 2016 at the Decije Pozorište in Jevtovic's home city of Kragujevac in Serbia.
The recording is clear and uncluttered and does not suffer from any unwanted audience noise. The performance of the band is intoxicating, but more importantly the compositions are equally convincing. Every note has a part to play in transmitting the wonderful quality of the bands performance on that night. As a consequence, it does not take a great deal of imagination to envisage how compelling and potent the live experience must have been.
Live at Home contains a number of pieces that featured on Jevtovic's outstanding No Answer album. For the live performance, Jevtovic's is aided, as he was on No Answer, by the renowned Serbian keyboard player Vasil Hadzimanov. The rest of the band on this live occasion are made up of Pera Krstajic on bass and Pedja Milutonovic on drums.
The music goes way beyond any usual parameters associated with fusion. This creates an album that not only is creative and appealing, but is often exhilarating and challenging in its complexity. As might be expected, the live performance is technically proficient, but when the expressive playing of Jevtovic is combined with arrangements that provide opportunities for bold progressions and exciting embellishments to take place, the result is often stunning.
Live at Home is a release that is able to take the listener through a range of moods and emotions. It combines the right mixture of aggression and charming serenity and never ignores the importance of the use of light and shade to emphasise its more explosive parts.
Babe is probably the most progressive piece of the release and highlights Jevtovic's strengths as a guitarist and as a composer. It merges Serbian folk influences with jazz fusion and prog. It is crammed with complex rhythms and heavy discordant passages. The cleverly sampled voices of Serbian folk singing at the beginning, middle and end of the piece, give the track an added appeal and provide a real sense of heart thumping energy and genuine ethnicity.
Jevtovic's outstanding guitar parts wail, moan and often erupt in rage. His solos are engaging and the use and careful selection of a range of effects is never predictable or inaccessibly flamboyant. Jevtovic combines unnerving ferocity with passages of measured subtlety. His sparkling contribution is easy to appreciate and difficult to ignore.
One of the strongest features of the release is the measured contrast and delightful interplay between Jevtovic's heavily toned dissonant guitar and the melodic tinkling's of Hadzimanov's electric piano. Hadzimanov's contribution to the success of the album cannot be underestimated and in many ways is equally as important as Jevtovic's wonderful use of a plethora of abrasive textures. Hadzimanov's flowing piano flourishes, balm the effect of the piercing impact of Jevtovic's abrasive guitar tones. This juxtaposition between the sweetness of his playing and the harsh distorted tone of Jevtovic, lies firmly at the core of much of the albums appeal.
It is a mixture that provides the album with more than a hint of suspense and tension. On the occasions that the pair combine to resolve any lingering tension, or jagged edged dissonance, an overriding and identifiable feeling of harmony is skilfully crafted and is demonstrably exhibited.
Gut-wrenching, heavily fretted passages of furious intensity are lightened, sweetened and scented by an array of colourful world influences. For example, Briga displays the mystery and warmth of Balkan folk music and is bedecked by keyboard parts that are equally as expressive as anything that Josef Zawinul or Chick Corea might have played with Weather Report or Return to Forever. The use of sampled vocals adds to Briga's engaging and unusual palette of sounds.
The live performance captured in this release, gives an opportunity for the listener to experience something that pulsates with life and is flavoured with a capricious essence. It is clear that the performing musicians have great empathy with each other. The players are able to take the basic components of each piece and uninhibitedly surf, on a froth free wave of improvisation. This creates a truly outstanding live performance and a totally satisfying album.
If you enjoy edgy tunes flavoured with lavish amounts of unpredictability and filled with accomplished playing; Live at Home is sure to delight. It is an album that rewards intensive and repeated listens.
It is fresh, progressive, and to sum up; it's simply brilliant!
Bjørn Riis - Coming Home
Having always been a fan of Norwegian music, and having found my love for Scandinavian prog and ambient music growing, particularly with the quality of soundtracks for shows like Wallander and The Bridge, I'm always looking for new bands from this area to listen to. Having heard some of Airbag, I was curious to see what their front man would produce with his solo works. This album, Coming Home, being his third album.
The album starts with opener Daybreak, which initially would not sound out of place on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here album. A slow track that is very minimalistic, with no vocals and just builds up the atmosphere.
Following this we have the title track, Coming Home. This one brings in the vocals with the full band. A nice mellow track, melancholy and melodic. Again utilising the "less is more" approach, to great effect.
Drowning comes next, keeping a minimalist approach, while still keeping that "Scandinavian" sound. This features guest vocals from Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum.
Tonight's The Night could be considered the counter part to Daybreak, having a similar atmosphere building sound with no vocals. A nice build up and general ambient, laid back tone to finish off these 4 tracks.
Final track Lullabies In A Car Crash is a re-working of the track from album of the same title. Another largely acoustic number that conveys the emotions you may expect from a song title like that.
A good wee album, although I do admit I was expecting a bit more variance in the music as it was almost all minimalistic and mellow. However, it was still good and I will still be checking out his previous albums and Airbag's back catalogue.
I would recommend picking this album up if you are a fan of Pink Floyd, Solstafir, Pineapple Thief, or Bruce Soord and Jonas Renske.
Sacred Ape - Electric Mountain
Ah, the continued musical explorations of John Bassett. Hot on the heels of the debut SΔCRED ΔPE album comes the follow-up Electric Mountain and it is very much business as usual (even if the stylised band name is now rendered in a normal font!). Meet Your Maker kicks things off, quite literally, with a blast that reminds me of the sound made by the Martians on Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds. Once the warning's are over the electronica begins with the synths employed utilising a very 1980s palette of sounds. Although don't imagine Sacred Ape are mimicking the rather twee pop early Depeche Mode or Yazoo as there is an innate heaviness that would have scared the shit out of the chart musicians back in those days!
The title track has so many different layers one finds oneself torn between which lead line to listen to, as there is such a lot going on. However, the overall effect is not, as one might think, a confused mess of sound but an intriguing smörgåsbord that defies its nine minute running time.
In my review of the debut release, I mentioned that I found the instrumental version of the album to be slightly more appealing than the main release that had vocals on four of the six tracks. I am sure that comment had absolutely no bearing on Mr Bassett's decision to make Electric Mountain free of vocals. The truth is that on the bulk of the material there is simply no space to add a vocal, at least not one that would add anything essential to the existing music. The exception is perhaps the more atmospheric Sunblock with its more slow funk style of the bass line (i.e. it has its own rhythm and melody) and higher pitched lead line. This track seems rather out of context with the rest of the album and it is possible that a discrete vocal line would have emphasised this difference and made a feature of the track: it is different because it is meant to be different.
The delightfully named Grandma Doom And The Happiness Trap continues the aural assault (and although in my aging state I tend to refrain from playing my music too loud, this is one album that does demand to have the volume knob on the stereo turned a bit further to the right than normal). A less intense middle section lets the somewhat haunting melody line shine through which is a delight in its six-note simplicity.
This melody refrain is replicated in Mono Grande but with a far lighter touch providing an internal coherence to proceedings which is continued with Headlights sharing some similarities with Meet Your Maker, notably the rather more restrained blasts. The bass synths provide a slow pulse throughout, although the energy is somewhat lost in the refrain which does deviate a bit too much into the twinkling lightness of yesteryear but does provide a single line conclusion to the album that is in complete contrast to the opening which as it abruptly halts leaves an air of questioning mystery.
For these days a running time shy of forty minutes may be unusual but there is so much packed into the pieces any more would be overkill and delete the impact of the more prominent pieces. Sacred Ape is certainly a worthwhile musical project alongside Bassett's more acoustic solo releases, the Krautrock-inspired Arcade Messiah and the psych/prog/post rock of King Bathmat and shows that the man is comfortable, and more than competent, writing and recording in multiple genres, somewhat akin to a modern day Frank Zappa if you will.
As with Zappa, no matter what Bassett does, even if it doesn't exactly align with your musical ideals, it will always be interesting. As for Electric Mountain, it may be that its release follows on too soon after SΔCRED ΔPE so the impact is rather diluted, but nevertheless it is a solid release that sits sweetly next to this remarkably creative man's other albums.
Snowpoet - Thought You Knew
I always thought that the English poet John Donne possessed a wonderful insight into matters of love and the heart. His metaphysical musings penned some 400 years ago about love in all of its guises are still able to communicate through the mists of time and readily bring to mind a range of emotions that can clasp the senses today. The first lines of Daybreak (featured below), are a fitting testament to Donne's ability to convey timeless feelings and portray the raw emotion that can be associated with the joys and pain of love.
stay, O sweet, and do not rise!
the light that shines comes from thine eyes
the day breaks not: it is my heart
because that you and I must part
The lyrics of Lauren Kinsella feature in six of the ten tunes of Snowpoets' second album Thought You Knew. They provide a contemporary insight into matters relating to love and loss. Although using dissimilar language and a different mode of expression, Kinsella's lyrics in tunes such as The Therapist, where she candidly sings "under the tree as our sun rose, heads and hearts aligned", tread a comparable path and communicate a similar range of feelings that Donne, had so thoughtfully captured in works such as, Daybreak some four centuries earlier.
Kinsella's elegant lyricism in Thought You Knew is a standout feature of the album and is fully complemented by the magnificent arrangements and superb accompaniments that are a feature of the release. The music is totally alluring. Much of the album has a spacious feel that enables its instrumental nuances to stand out and allows the songs to breath. This sensitive musical backdrop empowers Kinsella's words and ensures that they have maximum impact.
Snowpoet's principal members are vocalist Kinsella and multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson. Hyson is well known for his work with Kit Downes and has also toured extensively with Snarky Puppy's keyboard player Bill Laurence. Kinsella was awarded UK Vocalist of the year at the Jazz FM Awards (2016) and her talents are featured in 2014's outstanding Blue Eyed Hawk album Under the Moon, featuring Dinosaur's Corrie Dick and Laura Jurd.
Snowpoet's self-titled debut was released in 2016 and explored a number of subject matters and used a variety of song forms. It was heavily influenced by alternative folk and indie genres. Improvisation, synthesisers and a range of vocal styles were used to create an idiosyncratic sound based upon Kinsella's expressive contribution and multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson's fine playing. Snowpoet is an excellent album and DPRP readers might well find that there are lots of elements that they might relish. It is well worth checking out!
Thought you Knew, is generally a much more acoustic affair than its predecessor. The electronic textures that were an enjoyable feature of that release have largely been abandoned in favour of what might superficially appear to be a more accessible sound. Nevertheless, delve beneath its surface, and you will find that it contains lots of complexities to be explored. Although it is relatively easy to consume; it is seldom bland and is always thoroughly enchanting.
Kinsella's voice is able to generate and portray a wide variety of moods. She is able to incorporate both, joy and pathos into its love hearted series of tunes. It helps that she is such an accomplished singer and is blessed with a voice that is totally convincing. Her style draws upon both jazz and folk traditions. It makes great use of her attractive range and has a rich dynamic tone. Kinsella has an engaging voice and her annunciation has lilting warmth that is able to stylishly convey each pieces poetic message.
In an album that is crammed with excellent vocal performances and interesting songs, it is perhaps surprising that my favourite pieces are probably the two instrumental tracks. Of these Two Of Cups works brilliantly as an interlude tune separating the mournful Pixel and the enigmatic off-beat bravura of It's Already Better Than Ok. It's Already Better Than Ok is particularly satisfying and its use of a sung and spoken word style manages to fashion a unique atmosphere. On occasions, this piece and the album as a whole includes an approach that brings to mind some of the more unusual and enigmatic work of St Vincent.
Two of Cups is a hugely evocative tune and its memorable melody is utterly arresting. It offers a calm opportunity of reflection after Pixel and sets the mood perfectly for It's Already Better Than Ok. Two Of Cup is poignant and moving. Its heartfelt tune conjures up a faded finger picture etched upon a misty window pain. Sculpted to express sorrow; framed in fogged glass; a doodle of a slow drying tear rests moistly upon a lovelorn face.
The other instrumental piece Under The Tree takes up some of the musical themes explored in the albums superb opener The Therapist and develops aspects of the electronic cinematic style that was an occasional feature of the band's first release.
One of the most endearing qualities of the release is the manner in which each track complements the piece which precedes, or follows it. Water Baby follows Under The Tree and it seems a perfect way in which to do so. Water Baby is by turns serene and sincere, unsettling and unusual. Its structure is not restricted to any accepted norms of song writing and consequently it is almost impossible to define and pigeon hole. Water Baby stands out as just a remarkable and thoroughly moving piece of creative song writing.
We can Love is the most radio friendly song on offer. Over the course of seven minutes, it manages to tie in accessible pop sensibilities and musical sophistication into an attractive package. The chorus is memorable and has a sing along quality. However, its recurrent redemptive message may grate upon some listener's bones. Thankfully, the sax break and wholesome instrumental outro provides a perfect foil for the pop candy nature of the piece. This ultimately makes the tune a palatable experience.
Thought You Knew it is not an album that has any immediately identifiable prog credentials, but if you want to hear something that takes a song as its basic ingredient and looks for progressive ways to explore that form of music; then there is much to admire within the release. I have found it thoroughly refreshing to hear and comment upon music that sits outside the normal parameters of prog, but includes compositions with enough complexity to satisfy.
I have enjoyed almost every aspect of this release. Its fresh and uncluttered approach to song writing is genuinely interesting. I guess John Donne got it right when he came to the conclusion that "no man is an island". The songs varied reflections on the mysteries of love, point towards the notion of looking beyond oneself. The songs strive to achieve an understanding of the role and importance of friendship, companionship and love in the world. The album has a clear message that these things should be treasured and valued.
The superb musicianship and crisp recording values of Thought You Knew ensure that its message is heard. Each instrument is clearly defined and has a part to play in creating a vivid sonic canvas that sparkles with musical skill and speaks with earnest sincerity. Overall, Thought You Knew offers much to admire and enjoy. Equally importantly; it has a message that if, or when, things go awry; that we can love again.