Roach, Steve [USA]
Updated 4/18/05

Now (82)
Traveller (83)
Structures From Silence (84)
Empetus (86)
Quiet Music 1 (86)
Quiet Music 2 (86)
Quiet Music 3 (86)
Western Spaces (87, w/ Kevin Braheny and Richard Burmer)
Quiet Music (88, Compilation from Quiet Music 1, 2 & 3)
Dreamtime Return (88)
The Leaving Time (88, w/ Michael Shrieve)
Desert Solitaire (89, w/ Kevin Braheny)
Stormwarning (89, Live)
Australia: Sound of the Earth (90, w/ David Hudson & Sarah Hopkins)
Strata (91, w/ Robert Rich)
Soma (92>, w/ Robert Rich)
World's Edge (92)
Forgotten Gods (92, w/ Suspended Memories [Roach, Jorge Reyes & Suso Saiz])
The Lost Pieces (93)
Ritual Ground (93, w/ Solitaire [Roach & Elmar Schulte])
Origins (93)
Earth Island (94, w/ Suspended Memories [Roach, Jorge Reyes & Suso Saiz])
Artifacts (94)
The Dream Circle (94)
The Dreamer Descends (95)
Well of Souls (95, w/ Vidna Obmana)
Kiva (95, w/ Michael Stearns & Ron Sunsinger)
The Magnificent Void (96)
Halcyon Days (96, w/ Stephen Kent & Kenneth Newby)
On This Planet (97)
Cavern of Sirens (97, w/ Vidna Obmana)
Slow Heat (98)
Gunyal (98, w/ David Hudson)
Dust to Dust (98, w/ Roger King)
Ascension of Shadows (98, w/ Vidna Obmana)
Dreaming ... Now, Then (98, Compilation, 2CD)
Truth and Beauty: The Lost Pieces Volume 2 (99)
Light Fantastic (>99)
Atmospheric Conditions (99)
Body Electric (99, w/ Vir Unis)
Midnight Moon (00)
Early Man (00)
Live Archive (00, w/ Vidna Obmana, Live)
Circles and Artifacts (00, w/ Vidna Obmana, Multimedia CD)
Vine, Bark & Spore (00, w/ Jorge Reyes)
Prayers to the Protector (00, w/ Thupten Pema Lama)
Tied for best (with David Parsons) as the best 80's synthesist around. Try any of his stuff - Dreamtime Return is a classic and a great place to start.
An electronic innovator. With so much output in the Berlin school vein, Roach has performed some truly original and exotic music. Most of his music is very atmospheric, and makes you feel like your in an ancient civilization or walking on the Planet of the Apes.
Now and Traveler are two of Steve Roach's early eighties releases. The music is very much influenced by Tangerine Dream... driving, sequenced electronics.
Stormwarning was my first experiment with the LA based electronic musician. I don't know too much about him other than what people have told me. Stormwarning is a two cut CD of 50 minutes containing live performances from 1985 and 1987. My first impression is largely positive with a couple of caveats. His style reminds me of 1974-76 Tangerine Dream but less full. This would have to do with Roach being a solo act while TD had three members. The first piece starts with a moody, ominous keyboard presence before moving into the overlapping sequencer runs that dominate most of its 20 minutes and most of the other track as well. Music like this requires many listens to comprehend so I won't say much more except that the repetitive sequencers got dull after a while, but in general I enjoyed it. Upon recommendation of some friends and a few netters I picked up another Roach CD, World's Edge. So far I like this one the best of what I've heard from the musician. I have a feeling that in ten years Roach will get the respect that pioneer Klaus Schulze does now. Roach has taken the sound of Schulze, mid-seventies Tangerine Dream and early-to-mid Ash Ra Tempel and blended them with a large dose of originality and ethnic influences. His style includes lush multi-layered keyboards and sequencers topped off by aboriginal and tribal percussion. It works. The end result is beautiful, peaceful music, perfect to relax to. I appreciate the way I can listen to the CD(s) several times and every time hear something new. There is a *lot* going on, though some sounds are ominously low in the background and almost subliminal. World's Edge consists of two CDs in a single CD package. Both are 60 minutes or more in length (which sort of explains the extortionate price I got this for). The second CD is *one* track timing in at exactly 60 minutes. However there is one thing about this release that is a major pain in the ass (for me, at least). Some of those low, ominous, almost subliminal sounds that I described earlier hit at the natural frequency of the walls of my apartment. This causes everything to resonate like hell even at low volume! I ended up having to turn the bass bandwidths on my equalizer all the way down to avoid this. Other than that, I strongly applaud Roach's efforts. You'll be hearing about this man in years to come.
Steve Roach is one of the new generation of electronic composers who were influenced by the masters of the Berlin School of Celestial Studies but has expanded the vocabulary by the inclusion of various types of ethnic influences and exotic instruments. I have two of Roach's albums, Western Spaces and Stormwarning. Western Spaces is a collaboration with Kevin Braheny. This album represent's their attempt to sonically describe the vast spaces and dramatic beauty of the American Southwest. In my opinion, they did an admiral job. The music is very emphemeral and subtle, and shimmers like the heat of the desert sand. Stormwarning, on the other hand, is a one-man live recording and is similar to Klaus Schulze's Timewind or Tangerine Dream's Ricochet, defined by layers of synth textures over sequenced patterns. Either of these are recommended to fans of electronic music.
[See Braheny, Kevin | Burmer, Richard | Reyes, Jorge | Rich, Robert | Stearns, Michael]

Click here for Steve Roach's web site

Roar Of Silence, The [Germany]

The Roar Of Silence (91)

German five piece - two singers (male and female) backed by a trio of guitars keyboards and drums. English vocals, but strong deutsch accents detract from their effectiveness. The music wanders around between pop, sixties folk-rock (harmonies sometimes remind of Jeff Airplane), ballads, occasionally drifting into territory that is mildly progressive.

Rockenfield/Speer [USA]
Updated 7/10/03

Televoid (98)
Hells Canyon (00)
Scott Rockenfield and Paul Speer at the Grammys

Consider this review of Hells Canyon to be both a recommendation and a warning, depending on what you're looking for in your music. This is the music of duo Scott Rockenfield (drummer for Queensrÿche) and guitarist Paul Speer. Both share keyboard duties.

Imagine you're sitting on an airplane, awaiting takeoff. A video comes on the front bulkhead screen, or the overhead TV's. It's showing scenes of a vast gorge, beautiful and desolate. The scenes are mostly helicopter flyovers, with some ground shots showing the beauty of the desert vegitation and a blazing red sunset. The photography is superb, very slick and perfect. Maybe the scenes are even computer-enhanced, they seem almost too perfect to be real. Wait ... there's a soundtrack too. It's sorta cool ... lots of drumming, with some sort of tribal passages indicating the Native American heritage of this land. Some pretty hot guitar work, too, not to mention dreamy symphonic keyboard sweetening throughout. Like the video, it's very slick and perfect-sounding. Rock without being too heavy, fusion without being too jazzy, maybe even a little progressive without getting too snotty about it. Not a note is out of place, not an instrument outside of the sound spectrum slot it's supposed to be filling. The studio work is superb, the playing precise and even emotional. But nothing is too challenging. Nothing grabs your attention and says, "listen to me now!". In fact, the music is sort of hypnotic, relaxing and ... well ... ambient. A guy in the seat next to you strikes up a conversation and you stop noticing the video or the audio ... and it doesn't even bother you ...

I don't know that Rockenfield and Speer will be featured on your next airline flight. But if they were, this CD would provide the perfect music for the video I've described. If you like this sort of music, this is a great album. If you want challenging, try the latest King Crimson or Thinking Plague CD instead. But, you know, sometimes KC or TP are just too much, and an album which is easier on the ears and the soul is preferable. For those times, I'll probably be spinning Hells Canyon on my CD player a lot. -- Fred Trafton

[See Lanz, David and Paul Speer | Queensrÿche | Speer, Paul]

Click here for Paul Speer's web site (also Rockenfield/Speer info)

Rocket Scientists [USA]
Updated 10/25/05

Earthbound (93)
Brutal Architecture (96)
Earth Below and Sky Above: Live in Europe and America (98)
Oblivion Days (99)
Rocket Scientists 2005

I don't have any Rocket Scientist albums yet, but I have heard the Rocket Scientists cuts on the Think Tank Media sampler #2 included with Progression magazine #35, and have listened to several high-quality MP3's on their web site. The pieces I've heard are "Earthbound" from Earthbound, "Mariner" and "Wake Me Up" from Brutal Architecture, "Calm Before the Storm" from Earth Below and Sky Above, and "Dark Water/Aqua Vitae Medley" from Oblivion Days. I suggest you take the time to go to the site and audition these yourself. If you're like me, you'll be ready to add the entire discography to your CD collection.

Of all the reviews I've built around this Think Tank Media sampler and the MP3 samples from their web site (see also Lana Lane and Erik Norlander), Rocket Scientists are by far what I would call the most progressive. Norlander does his best work on these cuts, sounding at turns like keyboard gods Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Tony Banks. The reason for the difference between this and Norlander's solo efforts is undoubtedly the influence of Rocket Scientist Mark McCrite, who plays guitar and gets first billing on composition on all of the songs (except "Mariner", crediting only Norlander).

The Think Tank site calls Earthbound Neo-Prog. OK, I'll be the first to admit I'm confused about the whole "Neo" thing. Are the songs from Genesis' Duke "Neo" because they are more simple and song-oriented? I don't think I care. Rocket Scientists are progressive as far as I'm concerned, Neo or not, and they're making some darn fine music here. By far more interesting than anything Genesis ever did after Wind and Wuthering. Even the live cut, "Calm Before the Storm" is superb, which I assume means these guys would be a very cool band to go and see perform live.

Rather than try to give a blow-by-blow analysis of each of the songs, I'll just conclude by saying they are all excellent, all quite different, all have excellent guitar, keyboard and vocal work, and are very enjoyable to hear. And if "Neo" means they sound like Marillion, then these guys aren't. -- Fred Trafton

[See Ayreon | Lane, Lana | Norlander, Erik]

Click here for Think Tank Media's web site
Click here for the Kinesis Rocket Scientists web site

Rocky's Filj [Italy]

Storie Di Uomini E Non (73)

A jazz band. Not very intresting.

Rodulfo, Raimundo [Venezuela]
Updated 8/13/03

Suenos/Dreams (00)
The Dreams Concerto (02)
To Live a Dream - The Official Bootleg (03, Live, downloadable from web site)
To Live a Dream 2 - The Official Bootleg (03, Live, downloadable from web site)
Raimundo Rodulfo

Rodulfo is sending me his CD's for review. In the meantime, check out Jurriaan Hage's reviews by clicking on the album titles in the discography above. -- Fred Trafton

Click here for Raimundo Rodulfo's web site

Roedelius, Hans-Joachim [Germany]
Updated 8/13/03

Durch Die Wüste (78)
Jardin Au Fou (79)
Selbstportrait (79)
Selbstportrait II (80)
Selbstportrait III (80)
Lustwandel (81)
Wenn der Südwind weht (81)
Offene Türen (82)
Flieg Vogel fliege (Selfportrait IV) (82)
Wasser im Wind (82)
Auf leisen Sohlen (84)
Gift of Moment (84)
Auf leisen Sohlen (85, slightly different from 1984 release)
Wie das Wispern des Windes (86)
Momenti Felici (87)
Weites Land (87)
Fortress of Love (89)
Variety of Moods (90)
Der Ohrenspiegel (91)
Piano Piano (91)
Friendly Game (92)
Cuando Adonde (92)
Frühling (92)
Tace (93, Live cuts from theater works)
Sinfonia Contempora I: Von Zeit zu Zeit (94)
Theater-works (94, theater and dance theater music)
Selbstportrait Vl: The diary of the unforgotten (95)
61jahr Roedelius (95, Private Pressing compilation for Roedelius' 61st birthday)
Lieder vom Steinfeld: Vom Nutzen der Stunden (95)
Pink Blue and Amber (96, collaboration with Japanese, British, Austrian musicians/composers)
Sinfonia Contempora II: La Nordica (96)
Aquarello (98, with Alesini & Capanni)
DRIVE (Global Trotters) (99)
Lieder Vom Steinfeld Vol.II (99)
Selfportrait VII (99)
Roedeliusweg (00)

"Eis im Stundenglas", the opening track of La Nordica (Multimood Records MRC 023), lives up to its name: with its glacial synth backdrop, sprinkles of metallic sounds in amelodic note patterns and occasional slowly rumbling piano chords, it is the aural equivalent of watching ice melt in a glass. A mixture of extereme minimalism and modest musique concrete pervades the whole album. At times the simple synth pond becomes so stale that any harmonic or melodic development seems like mere Brownian movement, even if all kinds of sonic debris, from distorted ambient noises to speaker feedback, keep popping up to the surface and then sinking under again. A more defined chord progression and a lumbering rhythm loop appear on the third number, but nothing is allowed to distract from the slow churning of textures, designed to bore right into your mind - or bore you right out of your mind. For friends of ambient minimalism only.

Pink, Blue and Amber (Prudence 398.6514.2) is a collection of collaborations with various artists recorded over the period of ten years. Strings, woodwinds and occasional guitar or voice team up with synthesizers and piano for impressionistic, ambient chamber music. Reoccurring traits include blurred, soft-toned instrumental colours, ambiguous harmonic progressions and use of Asian-style melodies, but the style of individual pieces can shift from Cluster-like airy introspection to a more glacial minimalism . "The Bambuswind" is basically twelve-minutes of one, unresolved chord with a few passing tones, where all development is achieved solely through volume changes and addition or subtraction of melody fragments and drones. "Beyond Crimson Bridge", on the other hand, has a heart-wrenchingly beautiful violin melody and the piece makes good harmonic progress in its wake. The resulting album is all pastel colours, soothing and delicate, though its sedate pace and glossy textures may be too new agey for some.

Roedeliusweg (Prudence 398.6563.2) builds on insistent rhythms faithful to 1990's mainstream electronica with breathy and gleaming synthesizer pads and discreetly-picked guitar melodies on top. Occasionally the sombre chord progressions and solemn melodies strike a similar chord as the latter-day works of Tangerine Dream or even Vangelis ("Seasonic" is very much the kind of jazz-tinged floating that Vangelis has been doing all the way from Earth). But like them, Roedeliusweg tends to be faceless and mechanical, and co-opting trendy beats does not alleviate the situation. -- Kai Karmanheimo

[See Alquimia | Cluster]

Click here for Roedelius' web site

Rogerson, Diana [UK]

The Inevitable Chrystal Belle Scrodd Record (85), Belle de Jour (86)

Related to Steve Stapleton, both albums heavily involved hio. Fans of Stapleton/NWW should like this.

[See Stapleton, Steve | Nurse With Wound]

Romislokus [Russia]
Updated 7/7/08

Between Two Mirrors (01)
Vinyl Spring, Digital Autumn (02)
All Day Home (02)
Lyon's Message (03, Limited edition release for Acid Dragon magazine)
Trans Aviation Pilots (04)
Romislokus - (Not in photo order) Evgeniy Gorelov (keyboards), Mikhail Voronov (guitar), Yuri Smolnikov (guitar, vocal), Dmitriy Shelemetev (drums), Maksim Platunov (computers), Mikhail Brovarnik (bass), Irina Yunakovskaya (cello)

Regarding Vinyl Spring, Digital Autumn (12/12/02):
I've heard Romislokus' second release, Vinyl Spring, Digital Autumn. I've also read various and sundry reviews on this album on the Internet prog press. It's time somebody came out and said what everyone else has tip-toe'd around to be polite. Most other reviewers have said something very much like, "this music breaks no new ground". I'll come right out and say it ... Romislokus is a really nice band, but this release, at least, isn't all that progressive. At their most prog, they sound a bit like The Alan Parsons Project, albeit with Russian vocals and some rather odd synthesizer effects. But most of the time they sound like The Ray Conniff Orchestra (anybody else's parents used to listen to them? It's called "Easy Listening") trying to sound "modern", with some rock idioms like drums, electric guitars and synthesizer special effects. Oh, yeah, and a guy singing in Russian instead of a bunch of clean-cut coed vocalists singing harmonies.

Romislokus is, perhaps, the next step in what the Soviet regime used to call "VIA" bands, which were the state-sanctioned "Vocal/Instrumental Ensembles", such as Pesniary and David Tuchmanov's experiments in the '70's who were trying to be progressive within a stultifying atmosphere of artistic control. Perhaps it's still a bit like that even in the "new Russia", at least on a psychological level. Still, there are some amazing acts coming out of Russia these days that don't have a sound like this, for example Little Tragedies, who sound nothing at all like the old Soviet musics.

OK, it's a little unfair to characterize the entire album as "Easy Listening". It's not all like that, but there are enough songs of this sort that it's the overall effect. This stems, I suppose, from the use of a (real) string section playing sweet chords over much of the album. A similar sound is used on the Pesniary and David Tuchmanov albums I've heard. I guess if this was Mellotron instead of a string section, the impression of being extremely "straight" sounding would be lessened. There are some good guitar sections, on both electric and acoustic guitar, and the vocalist is pretty good too, though there's one song where he sounds a bit out of tune (the vocals are run through a chorus effect for this song ... this may have been an attempt to mask the out-of-tune-ness, or it may actually be the cause of it).

The only odd instrument, and I've already mentioned this obliquely, is the synthesizer. The synth sounds on this album are neither the '70's style vibrato-less analog oscillators nor '80's style string pads. There are some digital bell-like synth sections of the sort that might be heard on an "Adult Pop" album, but most of the noticable synthesizer is very electronic sounding buzzes, frequency-modulated squawks and oscillating-filter noise swoops. This forms an interesting counterpoint to the sweetness of the other instruments, and is the most "progressive" part of the album.

Now, don't read into this that I didn't like the album. I did, actually. But really progressive it's not. I can recommend this album for those who want to hear something a little less challenging, but I wanted you to know what you're getting into if you buy this release.

P.S. If this sounds appealing to you, a similar band (Russian orchestral prog) is Er. J. Orchestra. They're doing stuff that's a bit more progressive but in the same vein. And EJO sings in English, if that's a plus for you. -- Fred Trafton

Regarding All Day Home (2/10/04):
I need to let my review of their previous album, Vinyl Spring, Digital Autumn stand as-is, because it's still how I feel about that album. But All Day Home is an entirely different beast. It would be difficult to call this album "Easy Listening", though there are still some similarities to The Alan Parsons Project, but this time I mean the more interesting parts, not the more boring ones.

Most importantly, the music now sounds much more rock, with far better guitar playing and drumming. There's some good rock keyboards here too, in addition to swoopy synthesizers which now sound like they have a point instead of just being there for the sake of making strange noises. Gone are the sweet string sections that made their previous release sound "Easy Listening". The vocals have improved too, and are now sung in English, French and Italian ... that's right, no Russian vocals on this release! That may not go over well with the folks back home (or maybe it will?), but it will help with the international audience Romislokus is obviously trying to attract. There's hardly a month that goes by where I don't get an e-mail from Romislokus with a new MP3 file they've just finished that's posted on their web site to listen to. They're obviously serious, dedicated and prolific.

Yeah, I would still have to say "breaks no new ground", but I would NOT say any more that they aren't that progressive. This album should appeal to fans of melodic prog with nice vocals and '70's "classic rock" touches (especially the guitars and studio effects). I can recommend this album without hesitation unless you're a glutton for strangeness and pushing the boundaries ... Romislokus has little to offer you if that's the case.

And it's taken me long enough to get this album reviewed that they've already released their next one, Trans Aviation Pilots, which Evgeniy Gorelov has promised to send me. I'll let you know about that one as soon as I hear it. -- Fred Trafton

News (well, not that new any more ...) 7/7/08:
Upon going to the Romislokus web site for the first time in a long time, I was surprised to find the following announcement: "In May 2004 Romislokus project have been successfully finished." I had wondered why I was once receiving weekly e-mails from the band, and then they suddenly went silent. The opening paragraph goes on to say, "All ex-Romislokus musicians are playing now in different bands. May be you will hear about these great guys soon ..."

Romislokus has left their musical legacy in its entirety available on their web site. You can download MP3's of all their albums from there ... click on the link below.

Click here for Romislokus' web site, in English or Russian

Rongey, Kurt [USA]
Updated 7/13/11

Book In Hand (92)
That Was Propaganda (00)
With Form It Threatens Silence (07)
Kurt Rongey performing with The Underground Railroad, 2001
(Photos by Fred Trafton)

Rongey is a solo artist in the strict sense, his first album is primarily keyboards only, fairly reminiscent of the Tony Banks sound, with occasional drums, and vocals, all by Rongey. The material is very strong, well developed, and generally fairly interesting, but the vocals are feeble and frail, and tend to detract from the power of the music. Great musically, but needs some singing lessons. Second album is due out soon, so I'm told.

From the opening chords of Book in Hand, the influence of prime-era-Tony Banks is evident in the musical portfolio of Kurt Rongey. This is his first release and is a sophisticated and mature work that sounds like a restrained version of A Curious Feeling. Yet, the underlying compositions are all very well constructed, with numerous little nuances and non-standard time signatures that are very compelling and satisfying. The mood of the music is generally low-key, but at moments the tracks are punctuated by ominous piano chords and moog-like keyboard leads that recall some of the more adventurous passages of mid-period Genesis and Yes. At other times, the influences of the "ambient" crowd, such as David Sylvian, creep in, making for a very varied listening experience. The CD is accompanied by a book that contains the lyrics amidst a variety of abstract illustrations by Rongey. In many cases, well composed music is ruined by self-indulgent vocalists, but in this case, the vocals are subdued and pleasant enough to add positively to the overall effect.
Rongey's Book in Hand caught me totally by surprise ... described as a Tony Banks meets Kit Watkins keyboardist's solo album, I wasn't inclined to bother. At first listen I found the Tony Banks comparisons accurate. And since I don't care for Banks' style I didn't particularly care for the first couple of songs though I noticed that his rhythm section was more interesting than Banks' efforts. However when I heard the third song's rolling keyboards and inspired synth leads I perked up. After many listens I have to say that I like Rongey a lot. His style has grown on me. While a couple of tracks couldn't be considered progressive except by the most liberal definition of the word, several bring a unique touch to the genre. The title track (10 minutes) is particularly good. Rongey is an independent US musician who could use support.
Kurt Rongey is a solo keyboardist and drummer who has released just one album to date, the excellent Book in Hand. All music is played by Rongey with the exception of a bit of electric guitar on one song played by Bill Pohl. The song are very thoughtfully composed and arranged. His compositions and textures sweep you over dark, haunted moors; carry you playfully across sunny meadows; and walk you down shadowy corridors of odd time signatures and eerie atmospherics. I get the feeling this is what fans wanted from Tony Banks' solo albums. To be sure, Rongey's style reveals the influence of Banks but Rongey's artistic vision is much darker. He also uses counterpoint extensively on several songs. Quite frankly, I think Rongey is the better composer, at least when compared to Banks' writings since about 1976 or so. Rongey pays much more attention to detail and nuance which I think lacks severly in Banks' solo material. And that's just the keyboard work. Rongey is also a tasteful (and VERY good) drummer who showcases this particular talent on "Indefensive Emblem" and a couple of other tracks Otherwise, he uses his drumming know-how to program the drum machine to good effect. Rongey sings on several tracks in a quiet and unassuming style. Sometimes the vocals could use a little more "gusto" but usually it fits the moody nature of the music very well. The CD comes with a glossy 8.5 x 11 booklet with the lyrics scrawled amidst impressionistic or abstract sketches, also by Rongey. Definitely worthy of any good prog collection; highly recommended.
Updated 1/26/01:
Book in Hand has been adequately covered above, so I'll concentrate on Rongey's new release, That Was Propaganda. It was finally released in 2000, though the original recordings were done in '91 and '92. At that time, Rongey was unable to get a mix he liked, and shelved the project. With the advent of digital signal processing, he was able to salvage most of these recordings, all but two songs which he re-recorded for this release. That Was Propaganda was conceived during the Russian coup of August 1991.

To put it mildly, this album kicks serious progressive butt! First of all, to all those above who complained about Rongey's vocals on Book in Hand, give a listen to this album. They have improved dramatically! Actually, Rongey's vocals sound a lot like National Health except for a couple of places where they're a dead ringer for Peter Gabriel (come on, Kurt, are you really affecting an English accent just to increase the illusion? Good job!). My only complaint is that they aren't up enough in the mix in a couple of places.

The keyboard playing is smoking, mostly very Canterbury style (like Dave Stewart during his Hatfield / National Health days), with occasional sections that sound like Eddie Jobson or (ahem) Igor Stravinsky (don't go looking up his name in the GEPR!). Rongey's cohort from The Underground Railroad, Bill Pohl contributes some of his signature Holdsworth-esque guitar to this album as well. The drumming is a mix of Rongey's playing and some really excellent drum machine programming ... it never sounds repititious or boring. Rongey's precision is so good that it's hard to tell which parts are "real" drums and which are drum machine.

I can't recommend this album highly enough. It's easily one of the best progressive releases of the year, maybe of all time. No kidding. This album doesn't have a bad song on it ... though I must say that some of the neo-classical pieces don't shine as brightly among the stupendous prog rock songs as they would on another CD. But that's just because the other songs are so incredible. Order this CD now! If you like complex symphonic keyboard work, I think you'll agree with me that this is the greatest. -- Fred Trafton

[See Bagsby, David | Pohl, Bill | Underground Railroad, The | Xen]

Click here for Kurt Rongey's page on the Underground Railroad web site
Click here for Kurt Rongey's artist's page on Mindawn
Click here for a review of an Underground Railroad concert including conversations with Kurt Rongey

Roolaart, Anton [USA]
Updated 8/21/07

Dreamer (07)
Anton Roolaart

Anton Roolaart's debut CD Dreamer must be the best prog album I've ever heard that really rubs me the wrong way. I don't know why. The production is excellent ... maybe a little too good ... whatever that's supposed to mean. The pieces are all richly orchestrated, which is something I usually like. The compositions are all good, reminding me the most of Alan Parsons' Project and the happier moments of Pink Floyd, though there are also Steve Howe-isms in some of the guitar solos and Banksian synth solos, plus a bit of Court of the Crimson King psychedelic feel. All these things should be positive, and they are.

Perhaps what's rubbing me the wrong way is the production that sounds like it's supposed to appeal to adult-pop or new-age lovers. Sorta like Toto meets David Arkenstone. Not that they're all that bad in their own way either. Occasionally the vocals seem a bit too gravelly for the prettiness of the melodies (especially in the title song, "Dreamer"), but they're certainly not that gravelly, and they're in tune. The fact that there's sometimes too many syllables crammed into the lyrics for the cadence of the melody bothers me too. But I've heard much worse that didn't bother me in the slightest.

I don't know how else to say it ... Dreamer is a really well-done album of good music ... that I really didn't care for. Go figure.

Oh, yeah, for those who like to keep track of such things, Roolaart has a couple of fairly famous guest artists helping him out on this album. The most well-known are Rave Tesar (Annie Haslam's Renaissance) and Rich Berends (Mastermind). Also, the CD features very cool cover art by up-and-coming artist Michael Phipps, who has also done artwork for the cover of Advent's new release Cantus Firmus and the CD insert art for Stan Whitaker and Frank Wyatt's Pedal Giant Animals. -- Fred Trafton

[See Haslam, Annie | Mastermind]

Click here for Anton Roolaart's web site
Click here for Anton Roolaart's MySpace page

Roots Of Consciousness [USA]

Roots Of Consciousness (93)

These guys inhabit that area of progressive rock that tends to make me cringe. Influences? Rush, Marillion, maybe even Be Bop Deluxe. This type of music is more in an "art rock" vein - very vocal oriented (and in that Fish kind of vein), straight song structure, little or no depth of sound, cliched ideas, and when they do tend to broaden themselves instrumentally it seems forced rather than natural. Take "Put You Away" which sounds like an updated version of late seventies/early eighties Rush with annoying "Cygnus X-1" like narration. One thing I do like about some neo progressives is the lushness of some of the music, yet Roots seem to be lacking heavily in this area. A lot of their music reminds me of stuff like the Ventures ("Candleabra") trying to do progressive rock. I suppose this is a more unique approach than the average neo but it still doesnt sound good to my ears. I doubt this will be high on many lists.

Rosalia [Japan]

Zillion Tears (90, EP)

Japanese hard-rock progressive along the Rush/Dream Theater axis, approaching metal at times. Symphonic keyboards. Female singer has a ultra-high pitched voice which, coupled with the Japanese lyrical stylings, becomes unbearable.

All female band with a rather good vocalist, though her squeaky voice is probably an acquired taste. Only one proper release, the 1990 mini-CD Zillion Tears, plus more songs on compilations as well. Mellotron and grandiose orchestral digi-synths make for a big keyboard sound. The guitar is crunchy and loud, but I'd hardly term this "prog-metal" (too keyboard-based). Not exactly on the level of Arsnova's Transi, but had they made another album, IT could have been. -- Mike Ohman

[See King's Boards]

Ross (Alan) [USA]

Ross (74), The Pit And The Pendulum (75), Are You Free On Saturday Night (77), Restless Nights (78)

Prog band led by guitarist Alan Ross.

Round House [Japan]
Updated 5/18/06

Jin-zo-ni-n-gen (78)
Wings to Rest (79)
Live@2001 In Osaka (01)
3-D (06)
Round House 2006 - Yoshiaki Uemura (bass), Soura Ishikawa (keyboards) and Masayuki Kato (guitar, guitar synth and programming)

Early Japanese group with a hot instrumental progressive sound that takes its influences equally from rock and fusion. Lots of blistering guitar/keyboard interplay and tight compositions. Apparently they never recorded an album proper, but some live tapes from '78 were excavated from the vaults and released as Jin-zo-ni-n-gen, which has very poor sound quality overall (like a typical 70's live bootleg), but the exceptional performance shines through. No Vocals. Some stolen ideas, like parts of the last track that do sound remarkably similar to the instrumental opening of "Can You Understand" by Renaissance.

Round House's web site is typical for a Japanese band. Most don't even have an English version of their site, seemingly because they have no hope that non-Japanese will have any interest. Round House is better than most, since they at least have an English page, but even these "English" pages are 50% English, 50% Japanese, and completely out of date. It doesn't mention the fact that the reformed Round House has released their first studio album, 3-D in 2006, though this is mentioned in the Japanese version of the site. Though the version I received from Musea Records was a CD, the Japanese Poseidon release evidently also includes a DVD containing live performances of the new music.

In the English pages, they compare their sound to Camel, which has some merit from the point of view of having a laid-back, almost easy-listening feel. But, at least on 3-D, I would say the sound is much more jazzy, to the point where some of it is sorta progressive lounge jazz. This is really strange, because compositionally, the pieces seem to have a lot of fire and energy, but they don't come out that way in the listening. This is at least partly because of the lack of a drummer, I think ... there is no drummer credited among the personnel (see photo caption above), and close listening seems to verify that the drums are programmed. No, not with that '80's disco drum machine feel, but quite like what a human drummer might play. But it's just too perfect and too repetitious. The digital shimmer of the keyboards and smoothly recorded guitars make this all so tasteful that it borders dangerously on sounding like Muzak fare. But in spite of that, it's not a bad album ... just a little too accessible sounding to my ears. -- Fred Trafton

Click here for the Round House web site in Japanese and (limited) English

Rousseau [Germany]
Updated 4/22/05

Flower In Asphalt (78)
Retreat (80)
Square The Circle (86)
At the Cinema (02)
A German band very similar in sound to Camel right down to the Andy Latimer vocals.
This doesn't do them justice. Rousseau are a great symphonic band and have as many differences form Camel as simalarities. Try the great Flower In Asphalt.
The best, well, my favourite instrumental prog rock group. These guys are from Germany, and have released three albums of primarily instrumental progressive rock. The first one Flower In Asphalt, is completely instrumental, and is mildly unoriginal. A lot of the prog rock cliches are borrowed from Genesis and Novalis and the like, but have been used very creatively, sort of like the essence of prog rock. There's the usual string and organ backgrounds, but these guys have a great flair for clean melodic lines. The next one, Retreat, is better than the first, with a couple of vocal tracks, not bad, though the lead vocalist does sound like he has a bit of a cold! The rest is superb stuff, with a flute playing a fairly major lead part. This band can be compared to some Camel, and a new French band (musician), J Edhels. Their latest album is called Square The Circle, and I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet.
This German band comes as close to being a complete Camel clone as you can get - right down to the Latimer-like vocals. There is a slight Genesis influence evident in their music. Despite their lack of originality, they are still a very good band, and all three of their releases would be welcome additions to any Camel fans' collection. Square the Circle or Flower In Asphalt are good starting places, with the latter being their only all instrumental effort.
Very mellow stuff, at least on the Flower in Asphalt CD. No vocals. Flutes. A cross between Camel and Solaris. Not quite as good as either of those bands, though.
What started essentially a clone of Camel's Snow Goose period, this German five-piece became more interesting as time went on, their best album being the last Square The Circle, with it's very colorful melodies and delicate arrangements. Mostly their material is instrumental, the last two albums have a few vocal tracks each. The first album is VERY Camel derivative, and in general not that interesting.
Retreat is the second release by Rousseau that has been reissued on CD by Musea, and features the very melodic, Camel-influenced brand of progressive rock of this German band. The lineup includes a flautist who injects mellow flute leads into keyboard-laden passages, augmented with understated guitar and percussion. On this release, though, the guitar work is more prominent, and adds some punch to the mixture. This is a quintessential work of mellow, German progressive rock from the seventies, in the vein of bands such as Novalis, SFF, etc. The music is primarily instrumental, with three of the ten tracks featuring vocals in English.

Roussel, Coco [USA]

In Time (84, w/ Kit Watkins), Reaching Beyond (92)

Roussel was the drummer in the original lineup in Heldon for the first album Electronic Guerilla, and made guest appearances on some of the follow-on albums. In 79 he joined Happy The Man, and since then has been working with Kit Watkins on various projects, or more recently as a solo artist. His latest album Reaching Beyond is brimming with percussive based electronics, very progressive at times, poppy at others, but always interesting. Comparisons ? maybe a paralell with Pete Bardens solo work. It's good and highly recommended.

Coco Roussel has been a drummer with Heldon and Happy The Man, and, on Reaching Beyond, ostensibly a solo work, but with Kit Watkins on keyboards, he creates a set of instrumental tracks that employ MIDI and digital technology to their fullest. Apparently, much of the music was composed by Watkins and Roussel trading MIDI data by mail and laying down their tracks separately. The end-result is very much along the lines of their previous collaboration, In Time. However, with Roussel in the driver's seat, the music has a more melodic and accessible aspect, and should appeal to those who enjoy Watkins' solo works and upbeat keyboard rock music.

[See Heldon | Happy the Man]

Click here for the Linden Music WWW page.

Rovescio Della Medaglia, Il (RDM) [Italy]

La Bibbia (71), Io Come Io (72), Contaminazione (73), Contamination (English Version) (75), Let's All Go Back/Anglosaxon Woman (75)

These guys released an album in English called Contamination which is taken from their third album Contaminazione, a classical rock album based on the life and works of Bach. This is a really good one, although nothing like their first one, a heavy album without the keyboards on their later ones called La Bibbia a concept work based on the early parts of the Bible. Their second album has not been reissued as of yet.

I've heard about 3/4 of Contaminazione--great, great stuff. They combine Bach motives, orchestral instruments, pipe-organs, choral voices, rock sections with guitar, synth, etc. And they do it all very well. Any fan of symphonic prog would be very pleased with this. -- Mike Ohman

Contaminazione is killer, one of the strongest classical oriented progressive albums ever made. La Biblia sucks.

Contaminazione is one of those CDs that experienced prog music listeners claim that no collection is complete without. While I could name at least a dozen that I consider "more essential" than Contaminazione, it remains one of the best progressive offerings ever recorded. RDM is short for the band's full name, Il Rovescio della Medaglia (yes, that means they're Italian). A rough translation to English is, "The other side of the coin.." Go figure. This and the album's being influenced by Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier" doesn't clue me on to any global concept, though it has the trappings of a concept work. Breaking from the progressive tradition of long tracks, Contaminzaione is less than 40 minutes in length but is made up of 13 tracks. Some of the titles are in English though all vocals are in Italian. A keyboardist's dream, RDM uses guitars, violins as lead instruments as well, though their keyboard and piano workouts dominant most of the themes. They have a rich, full seventies sound, coupled with classical orchestration. RDM is "classical rock" in the sense of ELP's Works Vol. I, though with the proficiency that that band had on their earlier releases. The orchestration works surprisingly well, blending with the traditional rock arrangements. Vocals are multitracked, choral in arrangement. However they have a progressive rather than choral feel to them. Heavy guitars and a tight rhythm section round out an excellent release. Contaminazione will appeal especially to ELP fans. Other Italian bands such as Maxophone and PFM also contain some of the same elements that make this CD worthwhile.

I have one RDM album, Contaminazione, which is most often cited as their classic release. The 36 minute album (with the 13 songs flowing together) is somehow derived from Bach's "Well-tempered Clavier" (harpsichord). If I made the translation right (doubtful), the title alludes to them contaminating a few ideas taken from the prelude and fugue of this particular work by Bach. Too bad Emerson doesn't 'fess up like this! As you'd expect, the music is very keyboard heavy though you'll also hear guitar and violin here and there. There's also a fairly strong vocal presence. One of the singers sounds a bit like John Wetton and there are several instances of vocal harmonies. Also appropriately, there exists plenty of counterpoint between all instruments and a strong classical aura to the entire album. There aren't too many albums where you'll hear a single electric guitar emerge out of a string quartet! Quite varied, original and excellent. Highly recommended.

Roxy Music [UK]

Roxy Music (72), For Your Pleasure (73), Stranded (73), Country Life (74), Siren (75), Viva! Roxy Music (76), Greatest Hits (77), Manifesto (79), Flesh and Blood (80), The First Seven Albums (81, boxed set), Avalon (82), The High Road (83), The Atlantic Years 1973-1980 (83), Heart Still Beating (90), The Thrill of it All (95, boxed set)

In 1972, when the first Roxy Music album came out, it was unlike anything that came before. Ten years later, there were scads of different bands attempting to emulate Roxy's style, and often failing miserably at it. That first album introduced the sublime talents of Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay to an unsuspecting world. Eno was using his synth like no one else, not only as a lead instrument, but primarily as a sound-processor, interacting with what the other members were doing. His presence is deeply felt on the debut, which also displays Ferry's highly stylized vocals. They make prog-rock with the emphasis on rock, and yet they essay auditory landscapes such as "Sea Breezes" as well. For Your Pleasure brings Ferry's songs closer to the fore, but Eno's sound distortion is still all over, note the hypnotic "The Bogus Man", the reverb-laden title-track and most notoriously the powerful "In Every Dream Home A Heartache", with lyrics about an inflatable sex-doll! For Stranded, Eno was replaced by teenage keyboard/violin prodigy Eddie Jobson. Not surprisingly, the emphasis is more on songs than the freaked-out craziness of the Eno albums, although there is a definite offbeatness to much of the music here. Jobson had settled cozily in for Country Life, best remembered by prog-heads for the amazing "Out Of The Blue", which houses one of Jobson's most breathtaking violin solos. The surging "The Thrill Of It All", and the weird "Bitter-Sweet" are other peaks. This is probably the most stylistically diverse of all their albums. If you can't picture Ferry singing the blues ("If It Takes All Night"), or Manzanera wielding a steel-guitar ("Prairie Rose"), or ever longed to hear this band do a chamber-like number with harpsichord and oboe ("Triptych"), this album may be for you. Siren is undeniably their best, leading off with their biggest hit ever: "Love Is The Drug". What's more, the next song--"End Of The Line"--may be their most wonderful ballad. It leads directly into the mesmerizing "Sentimental Fool", which is followed by the aptly titled "Whirlwind", etc. One song that's sure to please is the swirling synth maelstrom of "Both Ends Burning", which many an 80's synth band tried to imitate, but never equalled. One of my personal favourites is the closing number: "Just Another High", a perfectly appropriate closing number for the album. If you only get one Roxy Music album, this may be the one to get. Greatest Hits includes two very good singles ("Virginia PLain" and "Pyjamarama") otherwise not available on LP. Viva Roxy Music is a live LP comprising mostly more prog-orientated (i.e., longer tracks) like "The Bogus Man". I haven't heard it yet. The reunion albums are far more pop/dance music orientated and far less inspired. Best from this period: Avalon. Worst: Flesh + Blood. -- Mike Ohman

[See 801 | Eno, Brian | Manzanera, Phil | Quiet Sun

Click here for the Roxy Music Home Page

Royal Hunt [Sweden]
Updated 5/19/08

Land of Broken Hearts (92)
Royal Hunt-The Maxi EP (93, EP)
Clown in the Mirror (93)
Moving Target (95)
Far Away (95, EP)
Live 1996 (96, Live 2CD)
Paradox (97)
Closing the Chapter: Paradox Live (98, Live)
Fear (99)
Intervention (00, EP)
The Mission (01)
The Watchers (01)
Eyewitness (03)
Paper Blood (05)
Live 2006 (06, Live)
Collision Course ... Paradox 2 (08)
Royal Hunt - Andre Andersen (keyboards), Steen Mogensen (bass), Jacob Kjaer (guitar), John West (drums, vocals)

Enjoying international success for the better part of the last decade, Royal Hunt deliver hard driving symphonic rock with plenty of metal muscle and progressive touches. The majority of the band hails from Sweden, and are led by classically trained keyboard player Andre Anderson, a self professed devotee of Bach, Mozart, Emerson and Wakeman, whose flashy, symphonic flourishes helps the band rise above the norm.

The band takes many 70's and 80's influences as diverse as Deep Purple, Rainbow, E.L.P., Europe, Yngwie Malmsteen, and classical music to create a fresh sound that has commercial appeal, yet carries enough guitar crunch and keyboard panache to please the most stubborn metal and prog fan alike. In 1995, after releasing a few CD's worth of material, the band replaced their original singer with the talented D.C. Cooper for the Moving Target album. Cooper's powerful vocal presence prompted a huge leap forward for the band, and led to many successful tours of Europe and Japan where the bands brand of hard rock and progressive metal really hit home. One more release with Cooper at the vocal helm hit the street in 1997, the magnificent Paradox. Filled with soaring, melodic vocals, walls of dense keyboard orchestrations, and virtuoso guitar work from Jacob Kjaer, it seemed that Royal Hunt were on the verge taking the world by storm. Shortly after the release of Paradox, the band parted ways with vocalist Cooper, who then went on to a solo career before starting up another band called Silent Force. Finding a replacement proved to be an easy task, as in stepped John West, lead singer for the prog-metal band Artension. Looking to hook up with a band that took part in regular touring, West jumped at the chance to join the accomplished Royal Hunt. The ensuing debut for West turned out to be 1999's heavier Fear, which showed the singer's husky Glenn Hughes inspired voice a perfect fit for the band. Perhaps the bands most accomplished recording, the concept album The Mission, was released in 2001 to critical acclaim, and featured the most progressive sounds yet from the foursome. Containing an amazing performance from keyboardist Andersen, continued strong vocals from West, complex lyrics, and monumental guitar work, The Mission proved that Royal Hunt have what it takes to make it in the progressive metal world in the new millennium. -- Peter Pardo

Click here for the Royal Hunt web site

Roz Vitalis [Russia]
Updated 6/26/07

L'Ascensione (02)
Painsadist (03, EP)
Lazarus (03)
The Threesunny Light Power (04, EP)
Das Licht Der Menschen (04)
Enigmarden (05)
Live Autumn '05 In The Ad Lucem Studio (05, Live)
Compassionizer (07)
Ivan Rozmainsky

Roz Vitalis is essentially Russian keyboardist Ivan Rozmainsky, who started releasing recordings of his strange musical visions in 2002. His earliest work was solo, but later albums have included a "band" of sorts, with personnel shifting from album to album, though Rozmainsky appears to be using their talents to the fullest, including their contributions to composition. This makes the sound of the albums vary quite a bit from release to release, though all of them that I've heard certainly fall under the broad category of RIO or avant garde rock music, with strong elements of space rock, gothic church music and (warped) ethnic Russian folk and classical music. You could also call parts of it symphonic, but think more along the lines of Stravinsky rather than Mozart. It's a challenging mix that's not for everyone, but has a lot to offer to those of us with the right mindset for this type of organized anarchy.

About their name and logo (right) ... just about all of their album covers is some variant on this logo, with different colors and backgrounds, much like what Roger Dean did with the Yes logo on many of that band's early albums. The name comes from the latin ros vitalis, meaning "living water" (or, more exacly "living dew", since "ros" is "dew"). The misspelling is, of course, intentional, suggesting ROZmainsky's name. The symbol of the cross on a crescent moon, says Rozmainsky, is an "ancient Christian symbol. And this is suggestion on 'goals' of Roz Vitalis music ... the essence of Roz Vitalis musical approach is the reflection of overcoming of chaos, unmasking of spiritual evil, transcending and mystical enlightenment. Image of 'logo' is consistent with these goals (aspects), especially with 'overcoming of chaos'. OK. That's a tall order for a any album, but even taller for non-lyrical, instrumental music. But any place you get your inspiration from is a good thing, I guess.

I'll talk about the albums in the order I heard them, starting with their latest release Compassionizer. Musically, if you can imagine a sound at the intersection of The Residents, Fred Frith and French TV, you're sorta in the ballpark. But to this you would have to add elements of church organ music, electronic bleeps, clangs and tweets, distorted Russian classical music and a gang of computer geeks destroying a machine shop to get anywhere close. Are you getting the idea that this might be a "difficult" listen? You'd be right, but it's also a very rewarding listen, and I can already tell it's going to get better with repeated spins. There's just so much going on, there's no way to get it all with one hearing. I imagine I will be listening to this album frequently in the coming weeks or months.

Rozmainsky also sent me Lazarus and Enigmarden. Both are excellent and will get more of a GEPR write-up when I have time. But that will take some decent wordsmithing, and I don't have time to do them justice at this moment ... I've got to upload another GEPR revision. But tune in next time and I hope to have more. In the meantime, check out Roz Vitalis' web pages below and listen to some samples for yourself. Great stuff! -- Fred Trafton

Click here to e-mail Ivan Rozmainsky about obtaining Roz Vitalis titles
Click here to listen to samples on RealMusic
Click here to download samples from c|net download.

RSC [Poland]
Updated 4/22/05

Fly Rock (83)
RSC (84)
Marathon Rockowy (93, Re-recorded tracks from the first two albums)
Czas Wodnika (95)
Parakletos (97)
Gold (00, Compilation)
In the liner notes of the album by this Polish seven-piece, the band apparently credits Kansas, Styx and ELO as influences. Don't let that scare you away, they're actually quite good. With prominent violin and dual keyboards, they're certainly worth looking into. True, the longest track is only 5'30, but the energy this band packs into each song is well worth it. The singer doesn't mug annoyingly and try to steal the spotlight, and his voice is not at all unpleasant. Besides the singing, violin and guitar do a good job carrying the melodic lines, while piano, synth and string-keyboard form a sonic bed beneath them. The drums effectively riff along with the melody, accentuating it well. The overall effect is somewhat like Dawn-period Eloy or Hall of Floaters-period Omega, but with violin. The album is dominated by high-energy rock, with the exception of two tracks: the haunting "Aneks Do Snu," and the sublime instrumental "Dzien Na Ktory Czekam." In short: you could do lots worse, like Styx. :-) (Note that the Farfisa listed in the instrument credits of this album is not the 1960's Italian answer to the British-made Vox Continental, but rather the "string-organ" made in the 1970s.)

Rubber Universe [USA]
Updated 3/28/09

Parliament of Fooles (08)
Rubber Universe - (Not in photo order) Jim Brooks (drums, voice), Andy Burnett (bass, guitar, backing vocals), Michael Dickerson (lead guitar, keyboards, vocals), Li'anne Drysdale (keyboards, vocals, paercussion), Scott Holder (drums, synthesizer, vocals), Sara Motley (flute), Robert J. Noles (vocals, guitar) and Gina Ronat (vocals, percussion).

Parliament of Fooles is the debut album from Rubber Universe, a band that grew out of an Alan Parsons Project tribute band named Projectronics who met online on an Alan Parsons listserv. Several of the members wanted to write their own music in the same vein as Alan Parsons Project, and Parliament of Fooles is the first result of this collaboration.

Well, with that expectation set, I first listened to Parliament of Fooles and compared it to Alan Parsons Project in my head. The studio technique isn't up to Parsons standards, in fact it sounds a lot like some bands I recorded back in college in our school's recording studio. Not the music, just the recording style. And the music doesn't really sound that much like APP either, at least not my favorite albums.

That's when I realized I needed to stop doing the comparison and just listen to the music on its own merits. Viewed that way, the album becomes much more enjoyable. It's not Alan Parsons Project, it's Rubber Universe, and it stands up well for what it is, which is an album of symphonic rock that's easy to listen to, yet has some nice surprises and varied instrumentation, interesting lyrics and good musicianship. Oh, did I mention there's a certain Alan Parsons Project vibe going on as well? They did talk APP's vocalist Eric Woolfson into guesting on the album.

Bottom line: perhaps not essential in the annals of prog rock, but a decent and enjoyable album. Try it out if you come across it. -- Fred Trafton

Click here for Rubber Universe's web site

Rudess, Jordan [USA]
Updated 7/25/08

Arrival (88)
Listen (93)
Secrets of the Muse (97)
Resonance (99)
An Evening with John Petrucci & Jordan Rudess (00, Live, w/ John Petrucci)
Feeding The Wheel (01)
4NYC (02)
Christmas Sky (02)
Rhythm of Time (04)
The Road Home (07)
Jordan Rudess

Jordan Rudess is a keyboard virtuoso who has been quite active in the modern progressive arena for some time with the Dregs, Dream Theater, and the spectacular Liquid Tension Experiment featuring Tony Levin, Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci.

Of Rudess' solo CDs, I own and have heard only Feeding the Wheel (Magna Carta, 2001), which I didn't care for on first listen. It seemed to shimmer with that pompous, over-produced, Yannian sort of sound; a technological still birth of an album, popping and chirping with drum sounds and other suspicious "samples" that make a rocker cringe. But later I began to notice how much there is to appreciate about this CD in all its' robotic glory (if you can get past the ridiculous 19 second "intro"). Firstly, how about Terry Bozzio on drums, Steve Morse and John Petrucci on guits, and Mark Wood on electric violin? Second, it is an entirely instrumental, contemporary symphonic rock-fusion album, which is getting harder and harder to find among the now overflowing troughs of neo-prog, RIO and avant garde. And third, it's a really good record. It is exactly what you would expect (or hope for) from a classically trained but tech-loving instrumentalist. Reminding at times of Jan Hammer's later work but with shades of Patrick O'Hearn, Peter Maunu and Mark Isham (with Bozzio on drums again!) as Group 87, and a little Keith Emerson for good measure. Filled with tons of both driving rock compositions and smoother, spacier jazz excursions, Feeding the Wheel is a solid if imperfect instrumental offering. -- David Marshall

Jordan Rudess and GEPR editor Fred Trafton after Liquid Tension Experiment's performance a NEARFest 2008

Jordan Rudess (that's pronounced ROO-des, not roo-DESS) played at NEARFest 2008 with a reformed Liquid Tension Experiment. I had seen him before with Dream Theater, but one of the amazing things about NEARFest is that some of the artists actually show up at the hotel bar to hang out with fans. Rudess was one of them this year. During a brief conversation, I mentioned that I had heard good things about his new solo album The Road Home, and in particular his rendition of ELP's "Tarkus". He smiled and said, "Oh, thank you. You should buy it. I recorded it for you", he said with a flourish and pointed at my chest. For an instant I was confused, then realized he meant "you" as in "you the prog fan", not me personally. Well, with an invitation (and a promise) like that, I ordered his two latest solo CD's when I got home.

Rhythm of Time is an interesting sort of a concept album. The concept doesn't lie in a relationship between the songs so much as a concept of how to produce the album. Normally, it would take Rudess three to six months to compose and record a new solo album, but he only had 14 days before a big Dream Theater tour was going to be taking up all his time. So, he decided to see if he could go into "total creative seclusion" and compose/record in his home studio for 14 straight days, 24 hours a day other than an occasional couple of hours sleep when he couldn't stand up any more. Guest artists e-mailed their contributions (in particular the drums by his Rudess Morgenstein Project cohort Rod Morgenstein) on the fly, though the final mixes were handled after the 14-day deadline. Still, a challenging way to do an album.

Rhythm of Time is typical Rudess, if you've ever heard his style with Dream Theater or Liquid Tension Experiment. Intense, fast note flurries, odd constantly-shifting time signatures, and multi-part harmonies that are all playing equally fast make these pieces start the heart racing and the adrenaline pumping. Frequently reminiscent of the most frenetic of Patrick Moraz' solo efforts, but with more big-band jazz breaks and none of the latin percussion. I must admit that the first time through this album, I was tempted to feel like Emperor Joseph II who infamously said, "Too many notes, my dear Mozart". But like much great prog, this is the sort of music that rewards repeated listenings. By the second time through, I started to be able to hear the melodies and composition and not just the intensity level (I mean, you know it's intense when guitar solos by guests Joe Satriani and Steve Morse seem like "breathers" among the keyboard intensity). But this album is like Yes' Relayer was to me ... my first listen, I thought it was just noise, but by the third listen I was able to hear what was going on, and now I think it's one of the most incredible albums to ever be created. I don't know that I'd rank Rhythm of Time up there with Relayer, but it's the same sort of deal where my brain has to "rewire" through repeated listenings until I can really hear what the artist is doing. And to think Rudess did all this in two weeks. Wow. That's awesome. A great album that's still getting better every time I hear it.

The Road Home has been described as "a covers album". While I suppose this is true, it hardly does the album justice. This is Rudess' tribute to the bands that made him want to transcend his classical training and become a progressive rocker. The centerpieces are Rudess-ified versions of Genesis' "Dance on a Volcano", Yes' "Sound Chaser" (from the previously cited Relayer album), Gentle Giant's "Just The Same" and ELP's "Tarkus". Except for "Tarkus", which is about as faithful to the original as possible (all 22 minutes and 47 seconds of it!), the others start out sounding very much like the originals and then veer off into Rudess-composed sections before returning to the original themes again. These are all fabulous reworkings of these prog classics, with some great guests helping out. Neil Morse (ex-Spock's Beard) fills in for Phil Collins on "Dance on a Volcano", Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, etc.) sings the "Stones of Years" section on "Tarkus", and Ed Wynne (Ozric Tentacles) has guitar solos on both "Sound Chaser" and "Just The Same".

For those who decry albums that are "derivative", I suppose The Road Home is pure hell, with only a single new composition ("Piece of the Pi" [sorry the HTML character set doesn't support the mathematical symbol]), and that one a mere 3 minutes long. But for people like me, The Road Home is pure heaven ... re-imaginings of some of my favorite music done in a more modern style, yet maintaining great respect and even reverence for the originals. Yep, Rudess was right ... he recorded this album for me. And maybe for you too. I definitely recommend this one. -- Fred Trafton

[See Dixie Dregs | Dream Theater | Liquid Tension Experiment | Rudess Morgenstein Project]

Click here for Jordan Rudess' web site

Rudess Morgenstein Project [USA]
Updated 5/15/02

Rudess Morgenstein Project (97)
Rudess Morgenstein Project - The Official Bootleg (01, Live)
Rudess Morgenstein Project - Morgenstein and Rudess on their album cover

If you've ever wondered what the Dixie Dregs would sound like without Steve Morse, it would be something like this. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess has toured with Dregs, and Rod Morgenstein was and is the Dregs' drummer. Although Rudess and Morgenstein wrote all the tunes, most could be easily be mistaken for Morse compositions. Given that the origin of the project was an incident at a Dregs concert in which the power failed for all the instruments except the Rudess' keyboard, this was probably inevitable. Nevertheless, the CD has much to recommend it. The playing throughout is excellent. If there had been any doubt that Rudess belongs to the highest echelon of keyboard players, there isn't now. The compositions might too clearly reflect Morse's influence, but the Dregs' formula in fact does yield good music. The CD also illustrates how powerful electronic keyboards have become; although there is nothing here but drums and keyboards, each number has its own distinctive sonority, and one doesn't miss the bass and guitar.

Just the same, I can't help wondering what this would have sounded like with Steve Morse. -- Don McClane

[See Dixie Dregs | Dream Theater | Liquid Tension Experiment | Rudess, Jordan]

Click here for Jordan Rudess' web site
Click here for Rod Morgenstein's web site

Ruins [Japan]
Updated 5/28/03

Ruins (?)
Stonehenge (89)
Burning Stone (92)
Symphonica (93)
1986 - 1992 (?, Compilation)
Pallaschtom (00)
Japanese duo consisting of a drummer/vocalist and a bassist, who both use various sampled sounds as well to augment their aural assault. Imagine Üdü Wüdü period Magma mixed with industrial noise-rock, with lyrics sung in some unknown language, and you get the picture. Drummer Tatsuya Oshida is obviously under the influence of Magma's Christian Vander, but the grating industrial side to their approach takes the style one step further, into the realm of bands like Shub-Niggurath, but with more rhythmic power. Anyway, needless to say, these guys may not be for everyone.
The fact that this Japanese duo records for Shimmy-Disc should indicate its inevitable art-punk leanings. And its true that Ruins thrives on noise and warp speed. But that's only part of the story. Any punk band that sounds this much like Magma can only be described as progressive. Consisting of a Vander-ized vocalist/drummer and a versatile six-string Rickenbacker fuzz bass monster, Ruins puts out music that is at once breathtakingly complex (rhythmically), insanely cathartic (vocally), and emotionally driving (riff-wise). The album Ruins suffers from muddy sound, but there's definately a lot going on there. The vocals are yodeled/screamed like Klaus Blazquiz being chased with a knife, and the rhythms stop and start at blinding speed. Burning Stone is worlds better (and one of my all-time favorite albums!). The sound is much clearer, allowing the crunching riffs and syncopated rim-shots to shred your speakers. The music moves effortlessly from white noise to open spaces with great effect. Each track takes a different approach to this formula, and whatever they try seems to work. Standout cuts are the dream riff of "Zaska Coska," the drum extravaganza "Spazm Cambilist," the relentlessly driving "Vexoprakta," and the closer, "Dapp." The latter is especially interesting; no drums, just repeated marimba figures interlocking with a weirdly distorted high-pitched bass part and eerie effects. Definately surreal. Go pick this album up. Better yet, get a friend to help. This album is so heavy, you'll need help picking it up.
Take the original multi-track tapes of half a dozen Magma songs. Strip off all tracks expect those containing the vocals and the rhythmic heart of bass and drums. Cut short excerpts from each song and paste them together in random order. Play the results at twice the normal playback speed. The end result will probably sound something like Stonehenge (Magaibutsu MCC-01), fourteen songs of riffy, jarringly complex and heavy zeuhl madness played with punk's stripped-down sense of anarchy and the chaotic whirl of extreme attention deficit disorder. As compressed as they are, I still find it hard to listen to most of these songs for more than a minute, some of the more restrained like "Hail" perhaps excepted, as the fragmentary and unrelentingly noisy approach leaves little time for lyrical development and ultimately provides little variation between different tracks. Though the sonic storm kicked up by drummer Tatsuya Yoshida and bassist Kazuyoshi Kimoto is technically impressive, the overall effect is too much that of a kindergarten running amok to provide any real sense of build-up or pay-off, not even of comic relief or primal-scream cleansing. Only for those looking for noise and complexity above all else.

Symphonica (Tzadik TZ7215) is made more accessible by the inclusion of female vocalists Aki Kubota and Eleonora Emi, and especially by that of Kenso keyboardist Kenichi Oguchi. While Kubota's and Emi's screeches, sub-operatic howls and alternatively sinister and martial soliloquies add a whole new layer of textures beside Yoshida's yodelling, it's Oguchi who steals the spotlight with his stunning and stylish palette of keyboard tones, ranging from spidery piano runs, Mellotron surges and analog-style leads to a more outlandish space whistles and wails. They help to transform these remakes of previously-released Ruins songs into more conventionally progressive works with tension and development, light and shade.

For example, "Big Head" (much extended since its appearance on Stonehenge) is based on a lurching, Godzilla-like riff that sounds both elastic and rock solid, yet also sports an incongruously beautiful section where a dreamy vocal line glides against a subdued rhythm and a shimmering synth backdrop, creating the album's most lyrical moment. Most of "Praha in Spring" uses rather even time signatures, and with Oguchi's twirling and cavorting synthesizer leads dominating the aural space, the song wouldn't be out of place on a Kenso album. Yet chaos rules the day again on "Thrive", like an unruly child emerging from under the veneer of forced civility. In fact one of the more interesting things about this album is the frequent uneasy sense of restrained violence that could - and will - erupt any minute, apparent especially in the slow-burn menace of "Bliezzaning Moltz". With something more friendly to contrast with, the daredevil instrumental and vocal lunacy sounds not a bit less bizarre, but now serve the purpose of dramatic mood swings that I consider a central feature in progressive rock. I still find Symphonica hard to take in as a whole, but it is much more interesting and engaging an album than Stonehenge. -- Kai Karmanheimo

Imagine if you will the Dead Kennedys as a Magma tribute band (not as unlikely as it sounds, Jello Biafra is a big Zeuhl fan apparently) and you have this remarkable Japanese duo, who combine the virtuoso playing of the best prog with the raw energy of the best punk. All line ups feature drummer/vocalist/composer Yoshida Tatsuya, with a succession of bassists.

1986 - 1992 is a compilation which is drawn from their early singles and their 1st 3 proper albums. The opening 8 tracks are from their early singles and feature Kawamoto Kazuyoshi. These were recorded on 4 and 8 track machines and the sound is very heavy and industrial - I usually skip these, though "Cambodia" is a good indication of what was to come. Tracks 9-18 are taken from the Ruins and Stonehenge albums. Kimoto Kazuyoshi is bassist/vocalist/violinist and the sound is much more developed, though it still veers off into industrial thrash territory every now and then. The stand out from this line up is the demented "Hallelujah" (no relation to the Can classic). The final tracks come from Burning Stone, with Masuda Ryuichi on bass. By this time they were using Midi to enhance their sound, and the drum sound is a lot deeper and rounder. "Praha in Spring" is an amazingly catchy piece of prog punk that will stick in your brain for months.

In 2000 the band, now featuring Sasaki Hisashi on bass and vocals, released Pallaschtom, for me their finest duo effort to date. The use of a 6 string bass, Midi contoller and time spent in decent recording studios all help to keep the bass/drums format sounding fresh and original. A couple of innovations: Yoshida is no longer the sole composer, and the lyrics are included in the package. (Sample - "Blimguass" goes "Blimguass sommvless", repeated as often as necessary). This album also includes the notorious "Prog Rock Medley", in which they play snatches of over 20 prog classics in two and a half minutes, which justifies the price of the CD on its own. The Japanese version also has "Classical" and "Hard Rock" medleys, which are ideal for befuddling your friends on those long winter evenings.

As much as I love Ruins, I find that a whole CD is a bit much to absorb in one sitting. Program your CD player for about 4 or 5 songs and listen carefully - these guys pack more into one song than some prog acts put into a double CD. These 2 albums cover all the line ups to date, and probably tell you all you need to know. -- Christopher Gleeson

[See Kenso]

Ruja [Estonia]
Updated 9/26/01

Ruja (First) (79, EP)
Ruja (Second) (81, LP)
Kivi Veereb (87, LP)
Pust Budet Vsyo (89, LP)
Need ei vaata tagasi ... (99, 5 CD box set)
Osa I (part I) (99, CD's #1 and #2 of Need ...)
Osa II (part II) (99, CD's #3, #4 and #5 of Need ...)
If In Spe can be called the bedrock of Estonian prog, the giant of the genre in the country must be Ruja. Sometimes called the "Yes" of Estonia (for its longevity, member changes, style changes and intrigues), the 17-year run of the band has touched practically every Estonian in the country. However, saying that, the band is extremely hard to pin down, and is relatively unknown to the world.

The band began playing in 1971 with a set of musicians that wanted to challenge the music scene with some adventurous stuff. With little influence from much outside prog, Ruja hit the scene with two poppy but interesting songs that were destined to become classics. One reason for the success: Ruja dared to challenge Soviet authorities and sang in Estonian -- something the KGB and others frowned upon. Ruja was probably the first big band to do so, and that issue would continuous play a significant role in the band.

Soon from the beginning one figure emerged as the heart and soul of the band -- Urmas Alender. Perhaps the most dynamic and emotional vocalist of his time, Alender carried the band through different styles and times, making success with each of them. His singing can conjure up smiles and invoke tears despite it being in Estonian, that is his power. During that first era of the band, until the middle of the decade, the principle songwriter was piano virtuoso Rein Rannap. The very first song they ever recorded in 1971, "Need ei vaata tagasi..." (Not Looking Back at Them...) featured a wild 17-year old Rannap in some Chopin-esque runs that would make Keith Emerson wake up (that song, coincidentally, also featured a young Paul Mägi, now the principle conductor of the Estonian National Symphony, on trumpet). The other song recorded, "Nii vaikseks kõik on jäänud" (As Quiet as All Stood), became the signature song for the band. All that in its first year.

In the next four years the band kept gigging and gained a loyal legion of fans, playing more fanciful prog songs like "Auruvedur" (Locomotive) and "Protsess" (Process) that can blow away much of the prog from countries not facing such horrific censorship and harassment as what Ruja dealt with. The problems from authorities, including the dreaded KGB, was common and band members faced that threat on a daily basis until the regime finally collapsed -- though outliving the band by 3 years. Without as much influence from foreign progressive rock, Ruja developed a very unique, and some say, Estonian style that may be hard to understand for others. Nevertheless, the stuff was excellent.

However, enigmatic pianist Rein Rannap decided to leave the band and the first "classic" formation broke up. In came another virtuoso, Margus Kappel, who really brought the band into prog maturity. Teaming up with guitarist Jaanus Nõgisto, the two wrote some of the most complicated and intriguing prog pieces of Ruja, such as "Põhi, lõuna, ida, lääs" (North, South, East, West) and "Ahtumine" (Narrowing). One of the best prog tracks of the era was "Avanemine" (Opening), coincidentally written by the teenage Erkki-Sven Tüür of In Spe fame. The band rose to become the most popular band of the day and the second "classic" formation of the band finally, after nearly a decade, convinced authorities to let them release an EP. This rare collectors item, the self-titled EP, came out in 1979, featuring three shorter songs and the aforementioned prog classic "Põhi, lõuna, ida, lääs." Despite the limited release, the prog credentials of the band grew.

Sadly, pressure by authorities and internal problems caused the band to part for awhile. Guitarist Jaanus Nõgisto went to help young Erkki-Sven Tüür to put together In Spe, while other members went to other projects. They did try in 1980 to do a project called "Johnny," an ambitious prog opera led by keyboardist Olav Ehala with many musicians coming together. Only a few bits of this survived on tape, as authorities immediately banned the production after a few shows. Ruja fell off the planet, it seemed.

However, Rein Rannap reappeared in the fold and the band came together again in 1981 with the original (now third) "classic" line-up. But hold your seats, it is not it looks. They changed styles, and they dropped into of all things...rockabilly.

Guitarist Jaanus Nõgisto says he tries to forget this part of the history of Ruja, as he was a dedicated prog guy. His acoustic guitar solos from the 1970s, such as "Üleminek" (Crossing Over), would make Steve Howe fans blush with joy. However, the band became very popular, working with poetry guru Ott Arder to put out some fun, rocking, and most importantly, national influenced songs that people can dance to. This formation put out the first full-length Ruja LP, also self-titled, in the same year. The punkish "Eile nägin ma Eestimaad" (Yesterday I Saw an Estonia) became an anthem for a generation of youth, reminding them that Estonia was free and independent not so long ago. However, more problems -- partially linked to the style -- caused the formation to fall apart again soon after.

Ruja, like Yes, did not die easily, and the fourth "classic" formation came about when keyboard whiz Igor Garshnek joined the band. Garshnek already had a strong reputation in the scene, leading the wonderful symphonic band Synopsis. His unique style, especially with his use of a Prophet [synthesizer - Ed.], gave the band a new voice. Alender, singing as beautifully and powerful as ever, penned most of the lyrics now (earlier they used the works of well-known Estonian poets), and each member of the band contributed music for a growing catalogue of songs in this era.

Like Yes, Ruja took on a more modern sound and focused on shorter songs, the best of them being "Veerev kivi" (Rolling Stone) and "Teisel pool vett" (On the Other Side of the Water). However, the era was plagued by many personnel changes in the rhythm section. Vocalist Urmas Alender, guitarist Jaanus Nõgisto and keyboardist Igor Garshnek remained the core, as the other members flipped in and out. Eventually the band released its third output, "Kivi veereb" (The Stone Rolls) in 1987, and embarked on an ambitious tour across the former USSR that was to tear the band apart.

During this time, they had acquired a manager named Yuri Altov, who pushed the band towards the Soviet (read: Russian) market. They released an LP where Alender sang in Russian titled "Pust budet vsyo" (Let That Be All), and took on a horrific tour that landed them in small towns in Tajikistan and even restricted military cities. And since the foundation of the band in 1971 was to sing in Estonian despite official pressure against it, this hurt the fabric of its existence. During the 1987 tour long-time guitarist Jaanus Nõgisto, who has been in the band since 1973, left, replaced by the Malmsteen-styled Nevil Blumberg (band mate of Garshnek in Synopsis) for the tour and the final shows of the band. The road came to an end in 1988 for Ruja.

Pressure of the KGB grew too intense for some, like Alender, who immigrated with his family to Sweden in the late 1980s. Ruja never returned to the music world even as Estonia recovered its lost independence. The next time the name Ruja was heard was linked to a horrific tragedy that affected the soul of the 1.5 million people of Estonia.

On 28 September 1994, the ferry "Estonia" sank in stormy seas near the Finnish coast, with an estimated 852 people (mostly Swedes and Estonians) perishing on board. On that ship that day was one Urmas Alender, the heart and soul of Ruja, who had so much more to share with the world. That tragedy shook the nation and especially the prog world. Several members of the band played a memorial concert several weeks later with minimal rehearsal but incredible emotion and precision, to raise money for the daughter of Urmas, Yoko Alender. The band that night was Jaanus Nõgisto (guitars, backing vocals), Igor Garshnek (keyboards), Toomas Rull (drums), Priit Kuulberg (bass, backing vocals), Tiit Haagma (bass on one song), and Indrek Patte (vocals). The pressure on Patte, who sang some lead in Ruja in the mid 1980s, was incredible -- and that can be seen on the video of the show. It took much guts for the then 14-year-old Yoko Alender, so close to the tragedy, to sing that night. The band said it was the last time it would ever be on stage as Ruja, and played its prog classics to the heartbroken legion of fans in that arena.

However, the drive to preserve the memory of the most loved rock band in Estonia came in the last two years. The most ambitious project in recorded music in Estonian history came out in 1999 after months of hard work, a 2000 copy limited 5-CD boxed set of nearly all the songs the band has recorded over its 17 years. The boxed set, "Need ei vaata tagasi..." (named from their first song) features all the fabulous prog of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the rockabilly stuff, sold out like fireflies to collectors in Estonia and all over the world, like Japan and the United States. The record company has released the 5 CDs as two sets (CDs one and two, covering the first two "classic" prog formations, and CDs three and four and five, covering the rockabilly, the last "classic" prog formation and other tracks), though without the fabulous booklet and the Ruja family tree. The latter, a labour of love and detailed research, was compiled by Ruja expert Artur Siim. At the release party, nearly every former Ruja member joined together to celebrate the memory of the progressive rock giants of Estonia, Ruja. -- Mel Huang
[See Garsnek, Igor | Gulliver, S. P. | In Spe | Synopsis (Estonia)]

Click here for the Ruja page on Mel Huang's Estonian Progressive Rock Webpage

Rumble [Japan]

Early Japanese band with male vocalist, who appear to be influenced by the '70's italian scene more than anything else. I don't think they ever had an album, but appear on some japanese compilation tapes and discs.

Rumblin' Orchestra [Hungary]
Updated 9/14/01

Spartacus (98)
King's New Garment (00)
Symphonic progressive outfit with family members playing a plethoria of instruments from Oboes, Flutes, Cellos, Violins, Pianos, etc ... Choirs are sometimes included. Bela Ella (their leader, keyboardist) is classically oriented with his compositions. Many folks have complained that his keyboard playing sounds very cold because he plays digital keys. Nevertheless, their two albums are some of the best symphonic albums from the 1990's. He plays the keyboards with ferver despite playing digital keys. This is not neo progressive. In-fact, if the keys were replaced with cozy 70's sounding Hammond/moog synths, folks from the world over would be talking more about Rumblin' Orchestra. Not to be confused with After Crying, this band's music is much more upbeat. If you have an open mind and do not mind the digital keyboard sound (the same sound you'd hear on more modern albums as well as all of the East albums), then you should check this band out. They're quite good and you get a lot of music. On some of their tracks, there are no keys but rather Bela's piano style. -- Betta

Rumplestiltskin [UK]

Rumplestiltskin (70), Black Magician (71)

Early UK five piece of vocals, guitar, bass, organ and drums. Bluesy rock like Savoy Brown, May Blitz, Rare Earth, John Mayall, etc. The bassist was well known session man Herbie Flowers who was also bassist for Sky. The vocalist is Peter Lee Stirling who has several albums from the early to mid-60s released under his own name. The first album is good bluesy rock with longish organ and guitar solos but nothing particularly progressive about it. Black Magician was released on Bellaphon, the same label as Nektar. I haven't heard it though.

[See Sky]

Rumple Stiltzken Comune [Switzerland]
Updated 4/23/01

Wrong From The Beginning (77, remastered for CD 2000)
Another release from Swiss Black Rills Records, which specializes in re-releases of old relatively unknown Swiss progressive bands. Rumple Stiltzken Comune's Wrong From The Beginning was a small-run LP, and evidently not well mixed. Still, the band had a good sound, and Black Rills spent a lot of energy on the remaster from their original tapes. They did a great job.

Black Rills' blurbs on this band compare them to Van Der Graaf Generator, which I can sort of see, but is a very inadequate comparison. Some of the organ parts are reminiscent of VDGG, but not much else is. I think the Hammond playing is probably closer to Le Orme, though some of the synth and piano parts are more like Emerson, Lake and Palmer. There is one piano part in particular that could be from an early version of "Take a Pebble". There is an overall "Italian" sound to this CD, I already mentioned Le Orme, and there is probably a bit of early PFM sound in there as well. This isn't so odd, considering that this was a southern Swiss band, close to the Italian border. Vocals are sung in excellent English, however.

On the downside, this recording is not the tightest ensemble you'll ever hear. Actually, they go right past "loose" and close to "falling apart" sometimes. However, the obvious 70's prog earnestness and clarity of the remaster makes this forgivable. In fact, it's not that objectionable, just a sign of their times. My only other complaint about this CD is its length ... only about 34 minutes long. I guess they couldn't find any old live recordings or anything to fill it out. No matter. It's still a fun CD, and I recommend it highly. -- Fred Trafton

Click here for Black Rills Records

Runaway Totem [Italy]
Updated 3/28/09

Trimegisto (93)
Zed (96)
Andromeda (99)
Tep Zepi (02)
Pleroma (04)
Esameron - 4 Elementi 5, I o Movimento (07)
Manu Menes - L'Intelligenza Cosmica - 4 Elementi 5, II Movimento (09)
Ai Cancelli dell'Ombra (10, Live, Rec. 1994)
Le Roi du Monde - 4 Elementi 5, III Movimento (11)
Runaway Totem

Update 6/5/11:
Back in February, I received a press release from Runaway Totem announcing the completion of the third and final album of their 4 Elementi 5 trilogy. A press release from Runaway Totem is always mysterious and epic, much like their music. I can't begin to capture the flavor any better than simply reproducing it without further embellishment. So here it is:

Runaway Totem is proud to announce that the third and final movement of 4 Elements 5, Le Roi Du Monde will be published in March 2011. This album marks the end of the First Symphony NOUS. In order to complete the album, given its complexity and importance, two new Elements are descended.

Current Elements:
CAHL DE BTL Guitars, Voice, Keyboards, Synth and Sampler
TIPHERET Drums, Percussions, Kettle-drum and Keyboards
DAUNO Telluric Bass
RAFFAELLO RE-TUZ REGOLI Voice, Diplophonic voices and Obliquitions
ANBIS-UR MARCO ZANFEI Electronic Piano, Keyboards

This last Album is so important that a new Entity descended on this World, in order to support Runaway Totem with its Work. Were talking about Modern Totem Ensemble. Runaway Totem is the Star, and Modern Totem Ensemble is a Planet orbiting around it. Its like other Planets, that during the Time will show themselves and descend on this World.

Modern Totem Ensemble:
MAURO BIATEL Photography

Best Regards

So, now that Le Roi Du Monde has been released, does it live up to this build-up? Hell YES! The music is stream of consciousness so its only fair the review is too. Are you ready?

The first cut, "Il Giardino del Nocciolo e del Melograno" is 32:12 long. Near as I can figure out, the title is about a garden with hazel nut and pomengrabite trees. It begins with epic orchestral stabs, narration (WTF language is that? Enochian? It's sure not Italian!), and low sustained piano drones which then give way to modern classical chamber music (doubtless the Modern Totem Ensemble) with reeds, brass, violins, flutes and ethereal voices, both male & female. Only the presence of drums tells you this isn't classical music. It's pretty ard to even call this rock music, but it is dark, mysterious and unsettling. Then, about fifteen minutes into the piece, the Zeuhl vocalizing kicks in. OK, now it's rock, in the sense that Magma can be called rock. Really, it sounds like Magma jamming with The B52's, mostly because vocalist Issirias Moira Dusatti sounds just like The B52's Cindy Wilson singing about Rock Lobsters in Italian. This is followed by a spacey interlude, slowing the pace a bit, with more of that weird alien narration bouncing around between speakers in the stereo field. This (in my opinion) is music to accompany Ra's barge on his nightly voyage through the Egyptian underworld. Finally the intensity builds to a guitar-led dirge supported by a brass choir and Queenly overdubbed guitars, denoting the rising of the sun, the dawn of a new day, the completion of the dark portion of Ra's journey. Well, maybe. Those are the images it projects into my brain at least. Completely brilliant. This may be the best work Runaway Totem has ever done, and they've already done lots of brilliant work before.

The second cut, "Le Mariage du Soleil et la Lune" (The Marriage of the Sun and Moon) seems almost short by comparison, clocking in at a mere 6:43. The piece begins with piano, flute, orchestral synths and female vocals accompanied by a strangely (mis?)tuned guitar solo, one of several places on the album where this intonation bothers me. After a bit, this is answered by male vocals. All vocals now sound like Italian. With the repeating orchestral passages and fast counterpoint flute "sequences", this piece starts sounding quite Philip Glassy towards the end. But it's over before the repetition starts to become as annoying as PG can sometimes get.

The third and final cut is "La Citt azzurra del Sole", which Babelfish translates as "The City of the Blue Sun". It's another epic that would never fit on vinyl, with a run time of 29:25. It opens with an immediate blast of Zeuhlishness, but this time with The Grand Wazoo-like Zappa brass and vibes! However, as the brass starts becoming dominant, they start sounding out of tune. This part seems poorly executed. They could use some autotuning software here. But it only lasts for a while, and when the piano and flute join in, it brings the piece back on track again. Violin joins in. More vibes! This part is all great, building to a crescendo that then dissipates into swirly synth spaciness. Then a bass cadence emerges, topped off with Italian vocals again but now it sounds like a Russian dirge. More space bleeps with chants and yodels. The finale boasts more B-52's female vocals.

Overall, this album is brilliant. There's a few bumpy spots in the road, but the album is so ambitious, and so frequently executed perfectly that I'm willing to overlook these few blemishes and declare it to be a mastepiece. yet another weird triumph for Runaway Totem. What will they think of next? I can hardly wait! I'm sure it will be interesting. At least. But while you wait, pick up Le Roi Du Monde and the previous two albums Manu Menes and Esameron to complete the trilogy. If there's such a thing as "Christian Prog", then there's also "Occult Prog", and this is the finest example I know.

One last word ... Runaway Totem has released Ai Cancelli dell'Ombra, a live recording from a 1994 concert where they are playing mostly music from their first album Trimegisto with the line-up as it was back then. The recording is just a bit on the murky side, but quite acceptable, and this album is a great document of the early band. They don't sound all that different from the modern band, in fact. If you're a Runaway Totem fan, you'll need this! If you're not, invest in the recent studio albums first. -- Fred Trafton

Update 3/28/09:
In 2009, the second movement of 4 Elementi 5 was released, titled Manu Menes - L'Intelligenza Cosmica. It's the usual Runaway Totem occult weirdness, basically 3 "side-long" epics, each clocking in at more than 20 minutes. The line-up this time around has expanded to include bassist Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione and female vocalist Issirias Moira Dusatti.

Manu Menes starts off with "Alle Sorgenti di Kronos", a sparse piano and sound effects intro followed by running across the stereo field, a belligerent-sounding speech (in Italian) and then some heavy, slow RIO-styled music, or maybe even more like zeuhl. Sort of dark modern classical, but with more drums. I get the impression of a child being sold off to demons. Or maybe being rescued from demons. Or maybe turning out to be more than the demons can handle. But since I don't understand a word of Italian, this is pure guesswork. This cut could be described as "program music", or cinematic background music for the movie that's supposed to be playing in my head. Too bad I have no idea what the movie is supposed to be. Still, it paints such amazing pictures in my head that I must say it's really cool.

The second cut, "Aevum" is divided into 2 sub-sections called "Tempo Alato" and "Il Tempo cos'è". This part of the album really sounds like Magma due to the heavy bass, chanting vocals and drums. But the addition of synthesized choirs and strings alongside the drums and distorted guitar gives it a unique sound of its own. Cosmic and important-sounding. I just wish I knew what they were talking about. The trading of male and female voices seems to be different characters moving a story forward, but again I can't be certain. Towards the conclusion, there's a lengthy hard-driving drums and bass section with a crazed distorted guitar solo over the top. It sounds a bit flamenco in style, or something that would involve ecstatic dance by scantily-clad, sweaty, athletic women ... ahem ... pardon me ... I did say this music was painting some amazing pictures in my head, didn't I?

The third and final part of this album is "Phi-Ur", clocking in a 26:20 with 3 sub-sections (do you really care about their names?). The tone changes completely here, with Zappa-style vibes opening the piece and playing a prominent role in the rest of the opening section, along with Dusatti's vocals. This soon becomes Zappa meets The Residents when the guitars kick in, but the jazzy vibes appear to be winning until the invasion of a drone, when things start to sound pretty spacey for a while. Oh, no need to get too detailed in the description here. Suffice it to say the third part has even more variation than the first two and is an excellent album closer. Chalk up another great album for Runaway Totem, one of my favorite bands.

As a last word, please don't take my comments that I wish I knew what they were talking about as a wish that they would be doing these albums in English. Not at all. Musically, the Italian works great. I just wish I spoke Italian, that's all. If, indeed, that's Italian at all. I think it is. -- Fred Trafton

Update 4/1/07:
Runaway Totem's Musea releases are available for download from Mindawn. See links above. -- Fred Trafton
Update 3/17/07:
In March of 2007, Cahål de Bêtêl and Tipheret return with a new album, the first of a multi-part epic entitled 4 Elementi 5. This new album is the first movement (I o Movimento), called Esameron. I do love esoteric mysteries, and Runaway Totem provides them in abundance. Along with the CD, Runaway Totem sent me a write-up which explains the philosophy behind the music. It's as difficult to comprehend as any treatise on numerology, alchemy or mysticism, and contains elements of all of these. But the fact that it's obviously poorly translated into English from Italian makes these explanatory notes all the more enigmatic. But far from turning me off, I'm intrigued by it and think it adds to my appreciation of the music. I can't find the write-up on their web site, nor is it included in the CD insert. Perhaps if you mail-order the CD from their web site, they'll send a copy to you as well, but just in case, I've provided a PDF copy here for your enlightenment.

The one paragraph that is clear tells me that Runaway Totem has stopped releasing their albums on the Musea label, and has instead created their own Runaway Totem Records label to release their albums "in order to have more freedom in composing and producing its music".

Now, on to what the album is like. Well, the philosophy may be a bit difficult and esoteric. I suppose the music is as well ... to most people. But to the sort of person that reads the GEPR, you aren't going to have any difficulty at all. This is really good prog rock. Keyboard-heavy, with emphasis on vocal Mellotron (or some sort of sampler that sounds like Mellotron choirs), synthesizers, and a Magma-like backbone of dark bass lines and feverish drums. Excellent electric guitar work too, heavy but not really what I think of as "prog-metal" (no "chugging", "riffing" or even screaming solos). At turns dark symphonic, spacey in a Tangerine Dream sort of way or even Zappa-like with fast "gnat notes". The sound centers on creepy, reverbed chorales, mostly singing wordlessly but sometimes singing that strange Kobaïan/Italian hybrid (Kobalïan?) that Runaway Totem has made their own. There are some nice stereo effects that make listening with headphones a real trip. Recording quality is excellent and doesn't suffer from "self-produced amateurishness" in the slightest. In fact, the sound texture is reminiscent of the early Gong and Clearlight albums recorded at The Mansion in the UK in the '70's. Which I mean as a compliment.

As I said on earlier albums, I don't understand a word, but it all sounds as if it's really epic and important. I like Esameron as much as the previous albums or maybe more. Highly recommended! I'm looking forward to further installments.

Oh, and one further postscript ... the band has made their two earliest albums Trimegisto and Zed available in their entirety for free download on their web site. I've downloaded them and quickly scanned them ... they sound pretty good, but I haven't listened in depth yet. When I get a chance to, I'll let you know what I think. But better yet ... download them and try them out for yourself! The price is right! Just be aware that the newest release has evolved significantly since then, though there are definite similarities. -- Fred Trafton

Update 5/22/05:
For Pleroma, Runaway Totem appears to be down to a 2-man band. The credits list Cahål de Bêtêl playing keys and guitars and Tipheret playing drums and percussion, but these seem to be pseudonyms for R. Gottardi and G. Morghen, who are credited with composing/arranging/lyrics. But don't ask me which is which. Pleroma leans more heavily on keyboards and less on metallic guitar than Tep Zepi, though there is still some good guitar work to be heard here. For this outing, they have written a work involving the Egyptian Book of the Dead, concerning a dead man's descent into the abyss and subsequent rising to join with Ra, the Divine Spirit of Light. Or something like that. Pleroma is far more Magma-ish than Tep Zepi as far as vocals, thundering bass and deep drumming, but with the added feature of symphonic keyboards that remind me a bit of Keith Emerson's poly-synth work from the Works Vol. I era. The music is fairly dark but mostly melodic with a bit of chaotic, noisy guitar thrown in to keep the tension up. It also still has that "movie soundtrack" quality. The vocals sound much like Tep Zepi (which, to me, still sounds like it's Italian, though I still don't speak the language, so I can't be sure). The end result is quite different from Tep Zepi, and yet similar enough to still sound like Runaway Totem. Pleroma is excellent, and I can easily recommend either of these releases very highly. -- Fred Trafton
Update 2/20/04:
I haven't heard any Runaway Totem before Tep Zepi, so I can't compare it to any of their previous work. But I can say: *WOW*. This is a major league album, full of everything a prog connoisseur could ask for. One might call it an Italian prog-metal version of Magma and give a vague impresssion of what they're like, but this would also be doing them a disservice. This is a unique and inventive band, and don't really sound much like anyone else I can think of. Tep Zepi includes Zeuhl chanting and other wierd vocals (in spite of what's already been said, they certainly sound Italian to me, though the syllables are drawn out and pronounced very carefully), synthesized noises and spooky chords, and guitars that swing from Frippian noise to Metal noise (I'm afraid I can't judge whether it's "Gothic" or "Doom" Metal, just that it's very powerful and heavily distorted). All this is served up with a feeling of epic scope and a bit of cinematic "soundtrack" feel. It's way too dissonant and offbeat to be called prog-metal, though it has some flavorings of that. It's really quite unique, apart from the Magma influence. I'm very impressed by this album, and the music really speaks to me. I recommend Tep Zepi. -- Fred Trafton
Update 4/28/03:
Tep Zepi is the fourth album by the Italian following of Magma's legacy, Runaway Totem. According to the press kit of this CD, the new music by Runaway Totem is in the vein of both of Magma and King Crimson with elements of Gothic Metal. Concerning the strange language that the band uses for lyrics and, in some ways, a general musical direction of Runaway Totem, the influences of Magma are quite evident. Whereas any references to King Crimson and such "heavy" albums of the band as Starless & Bible Black & Red are, in my view, very doubtful, as well as those to Gothic Metal. Even though the heavy musical arrangements are mostly both slow and complex, as well as those on the said albums of King Crimson, they're definitely of a different origin, the name of which is Progressive Doom-Metal. Back to comparisons with Magma, a lead vocal on Tep Zepi (and this is a very operatic-like vocal) is certainly better than that of Christian Vander. On the other hand, all the parts of a mixed choir, which is ubiquitous on this album, represent nothing else but vocal samples sounding quite synthetic.

Now, it's time to compare Tep Zepi to the previous Runaway Totem album, Andromeda. In all, there are six tracks on the band's new album, two of which are instrumental pieces. On the whole, this album is much more diverse than Andromeda - both compositionally and stylistically, and there are only two tracks here containing many noticeable repetitions. I could define everything that is present on Tep Zepi as just a heavy and dark Zeuhl, but it would be correct only partly. While Zeuhl is a prevalent stylistic constituent of this music, those of both of Symphonic Art-Rock and Progressive Doom-Metal are almost always inseparable from it. There are two compositions on the album the stylistics of which isn't about a confluence of the aforementioned three genres, and both of them are those two tracks on the album that features many noticeable repetitions. The first of them contains only the dark, low-tone passages of synthesizers, varied effects and noises, and a few vocals. The contents of the second of them represent a blend of Zeuhl, Symphonic Space Rock, and Space Metal. The heavy and simultaneously complex arrangements are very interesting and are typical for any of the remaining four tracks, two of which are songs. (Even though the 17-minute epic "14 Signori" is a monolithic piece, each of the three parts of it features vocals.) The first three of them are the brightest representatives of the album's predominant stylistics. However, while being on the whole as heavy as most of the compositions on the album in general, these three are filled with a very dark and tense atmosphere. In fact, though, only the last, third, part of "14 Signore (Akasha)" has more or less a light feel to it, while overall, the thing called Tep Zepi is as black as thunder.

Back to comparisons with the band's previous effort, Andromeda, this album looks as a major step forward overall. If you're into music, which is not only heavy and dark, but also quite profound, Tep Zepi is definitely for you. If you're just an open-minded and adventurous Prog-lover, Tep Zepi is for you, too. In any case, I think that an audience of this album should be larger and broader than that of Andromeda. On the other hand, being in the know of the current situation on the Prog market, I can't be sure of anything. -- Vitaly Menshikov

Original entry 5/17/01:
On their third album Andromeda (Musea FGBG 4299.AR), Italian band Runaway Totem play modern metallic zeuhl mixed in with space-rock influences and even touches of a more conventional symphonic rock. What we essentially have here is a combination of zeuhl-styled male vocals and guitar riffs hammered out on two electric guitars against the rock solid but intricate pulse of the heavy rhythm section, while keyboards paint space-rock flavoured synthscapes and occasionally add more symphonic shades. It is actually the keyboards that are the focus here, as their varied (from sweeping to bleeping, choral to stabbing) sound layers spread over and colour the rather monotonous and monochromatic distortion guitar riffs, their frosty digital sheen contributing to the cold, almost gothic feel of the music. Vocalist, who is clearly a graduate of the Blasquiz Conservatory for Zeuhl Vocalists, is featured heavily on all but one of the songs, singing lyrics in what seems to be an Italian version of Kobaïan (probably the dialect spoken on the southern hemisphere of the planet Kobaïa). While falling well short of Blasquiz in terms of range and strength, his vocal lines are confident, melodic and strange enough to act as the focusing element amidst the maelstrom of the music. While Runaway Totem should be congratulated for an interesting combination of musical elements, Andromeda tends to leave me rather cold, only really working in a couple of places. Repetition is very typical in zeuhl, but it requires a skilful use of dynamics and nuances to make it hypnotic and compelling, rather than just repetitive. Runaway Totem get it right on maybe two songs out of five. The worst example is the first part of "Kadman Neso", where the jagged main riff simply doesn't hold enough interest in itself to justify the slow battering it receives for four minutes in succession. The band show a good sense of dynamics even later in the same song with the soft verses and their Mellotron-like keyboards alternating with bombastic choruses, but in too many places I feel that without the keyboards this would essentially sound rather like more-complex-than-average metal (nothing wrong about that, of course, just not my thing). The most successful track, IMO, is "Tempus Fugiens?" which begins with a nicely atmospheric piano intro, and concludes with a gothic vocal melody and organ soloing over the wall of guitars, bass and drums (although there is a rather tinny synthesizer violin solo between these two). Fans of modern zeuhl and a more unconventional prog-metal will probably like this a lot more than I do, but for a more interesting example of Totem zeuhl from Italy, try the offshoot Universal Totem Orchestra. -- Kai Karmanheimo
[See Universal Totem Orchestra]

Click here for Runaway Totem's web site
Click here to order Runaway Totem CD's from Andromeda through Pleroma from Musea Records
Click here for background information regarding Esameron (PDF file reader required)

Rundgren, Todd [USA]

Runt (70), The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren (71), Something/Anything (72), A Wizard A True Star (73), Todd (74), Initiation (75), Faithful (76), Hermit Of Mink Hollow (78), Back To The Bars (78), Healing (81), The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (83), A Capella (85), Nearly Human (89), 2nd Wind (91), No World Order (93) + Compilations/Anthologies

Supremely talented singer/multi-intrumentalist/composer/producer. Runt includes nine minutes of "Birthday Carol", elsewhere varying through pop, blues, soul, hard rock, etc. Nothing on The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren is especially progressive, but it's still a beautiful, very personal album with Rundgren singing all the parts and playing everything but bass and drums. Something/Anything is a refinement of ideas borne out of both albums. It's a real tour-de-force for Rundgren, the first 3/4 of this one are just him playing everything himself. Best place to start for non-prog-heads, it contains his best-known music. A Wizard/A True Star finds Rundgren exploring new territories, with many short song ideas strung together. SO stylistically diverse here, he makes some of the Italian bands seem monochromatic. Synth-heavy instrumentals ("Flamingo", "Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off") and bombastic prog-inflected rockers ("The International Feel", "When The Shit Hits The Fan--Sunset Blvd." and the classic "Just One VIctory") appear alongside soul-orientated songs (the eerie "Sometimes I DOn't Know What To Feel" and a ten-minute medley of sixties classics), pop, rock and general weirdness ("Dogfight Giggle" being the most notable example in the latter category). A truly worthwhile album and one I give my highest recommendations to. Todd continues in a similar vein, stretching out over the length of a double LP, and definitely becoming druggier (Todd was taking a lot of psychedelic drugs at the time, and it shows). The soaring guitarwork on the instrumental "Spark Of Life" is one of the albums high points, the classic "Don't You Ever Learn" is another. Initiation has the distinction of being the longest single LP in music history--at 68 minutes! It's also perhaps, if not his best, certainly his most progressive. The B-side is comprised of the 36-minute instrumental opus "A Treatise On Cosmic Fire", again played by Todd alone, and featuring some of his finest guitarwork, not to mention synths all over the place. That was his last truly progressive album. Of his later work, Nearly Human is probably the best album (not prog at all, but comprised of some truly heartfelt, emotional songs), Hermit Of Mink Hollow the worst (really commercial and boring). Other albums of interest: A' Cappella (a weird high-tech all-voice album), Healing (which includes a side of thoughtful, meditative music reminding one of Eno) and No World Order (which incorporates rap into Todd's unique style and is surprisingly good). -- Mike Ohman

[See Utopia]

Ruphus [Norway]

New Born Day (73), Ranshart (74), Let Your Light Shine (76), Inner Voice (77), Flying Colours (78), Hot Rhythms and High Notes (78), Hand Made (79)

This Norwegian band's original gimmick was that they sported two lead vocalists: one male and one female. Presumably they were aiming at a Jefferson Airplane sort of sound, but it was definitely based in the prog-rock of the era. The gurgling Hammond organ, the dual guitars and dreamy flute passages are the high points on the instrumental side. Gudny Aspaas is the better of the two singers. Rune Sundby's voice is frequently gruff, occasionally off-key, and always displays bad English pronunciation. But Aspaas impassioned wailing, while it may not be to everyone's taste, for me (anyway) is magical. Clearly R&B-influenced, when coupled with the organ and guitars, her voice makes the band sound strikingly similar to the French group, Sandrose. The rare second album, Ranshart, is quite excellent. Sundby is replaced by a different, far superior male singer. Mellotron and Moog are added to the keyboard rack, adding a decidedly symphonic feel to the music. It sounds mostly Yes influenced, but with male-female vocal interplay. Later albums feature a pared-down lineup: keyboards, bass, drums, one guitar and one female vocalist (not Aspaas). The style has turned to a bland, poppy jazz-fusion style with some pleasant, if slightly raspy, female vocals, and some truly laughable attempts at scat-singing. -- Mike Ohman

Rush [Canada]
Updated 6/1/07

Rush (74)
Fly by Night (75)
Caress of Steel (75)
2112 (76)
All the World's a Stage (76, Live)
A Farewell to Kings (77)
Hemispheres (78)
Permanent Waves (80)
Moving Pictures (81)
Exit: Stage Left (81, Live)
Signals (82)
Grace Under Pressure (84)
Power Windows (85)
Hold Your Fire (87)
A Show of Hands (89, Live)
Presto (89)
Roll the Bones (91)
Counterparts (93)
Test for Echo (96)
Retrospective I (97, Compilation)
Retrospective II (97, Compilation)
Different Stages (98, Live)
Vapor Trails (02)
The Spirit of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974-1987 (03, Compilation)
Rush in Rio (03, Live, 3CD)
Feedback (04, EP with 8 60's cover tunes in commemoration of their 30th Anniversary)
R30 (05, 2DVD+2CD collection)
Replay x3 (06, 3DVD+1CD re-release of videos previously on VHS only)
Snakes and Arrows (07)
Rush in 2007 - Neil Peart (drums) and Geddy Lee (bass, keyboards) and Alex Lifeson (acoustic and electric guitars).
Is it just me, or is Neil starting to look a lot like Tom Hanks these days?

I've been a Rush fan since 2112, when they forced me to admit that one could make guitar-heavy progressive rock. Up until that time, I thought synthesizers or at least Hammond organ was required before an album could really be characterized as "prog". After they started to really feature the synth bass pedals and Oberheim keyboards in subsequent albums (i.e. A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres and Permanent Waves), Rush became one of my all-time favorite bands. But then came Signals and Grace Under Pressure and I hung my head in despair. How could Rush have wandered so far off the mark that had made them famous? There were some supposed "return to form" albums ... A Show of Hands through Counterparts were better, but they still didn't thrill me like the old stuff. The few songs I heard from Vapor Trails did nothing for me at all.

So when I started hearing the hype about the new album for 2007, Snakes and Arrows, I was skeptical to say the least. Strangely enough, their promotional agency was actually sending info to the GEPR. I figured I just got onto their e-mail list by accident. But when I got a personal e-mail specifically asking if I was going to review Snakes and Arrows for the GEPR, I was floored. Why should Rush (well, their promotional agents at least) give a damn if the new album was mentioned in GEPR or not? But if they wanted to send me a promo, why should I say "no"? I actually warned them gently that I thought their golden days were long over as far as being a prog band goes.

Then, on a car trip, I was scanning through radio stations trying to pick up something to listen to while in the boonies between cities. I found a rock station that wasn't too bad, and this song comes on the air. In spite of less-than-perfect reception, I crank it up ... it's almost certainly Rush ... could this really be a song from their new album? It's really good! They didn't announce who the band was, but I was pretty sure it must be Rush, and it was too good to be from Vapor Trails.

Upon returning home, I received my copy of Snakes and Arrows, and the first cut was the one I heard on the radio, "Far Cry". I couldn't believe it! This is the old Rush, returned from the dead! Well, not quite ... Geddy Lee isn't screaming like he used to in the 2112 era, but his vocals are emotional and ... well ... more mature. I have to say that of all of them. There's still plenty of power and crunch, but this sounds like a band that doesn't really need to release a hit for a big album company, and they can just play what they want to play. Sometimes, this means that a band gets lazy ... but these are ambitious, powerful songs. No "prog snobbery" here, trying to impress you with how many notes they can squeeze in ... yet the arrangements are complex for the sake of the music, not for the sake of their egos. For those who like to keep track of such things, Lee has switched from Rickenbacker bass to Fender Jazz fretted and fretless basses (he may have done this a while ago, but this is the first time I've noticed it).

The other songs on the album are varied in style, but there are a lot of great songs here. "Armor and Sword", "Faithless" and "Bravest Face" are all musically fantastic and lyrically intriguing. Unlike the guy (see below) who calls Peart's lyrics "pseudo-everthing garbage" (whatever the heck that's supposed to mean), I've always really liked Rush's lyrics. OK, so there's nothing on this album that's gonna touch "We are the priests of the temples of Syrinx, our great computers fill the hallowed halls". But talking about faithlessness as a faith in itself, or noting that "In the sweetest child there's a vicious streak, in the strongest man there's a child so weak, in the whole world there's no magic place, so you might as well rise, put on your bravest face" is pretty good ... not to mention a bit more mature. And for those of you who still aren't convinced about Peart's lyrics, Snakes and Arrows also includes three excellent instrumental cuts, "The Main Monkey Business", "Malignant Narcissism" and "Hope", the last being an acoustic guitar solo piece "composed and performed by Lerxst Lifeson all by his own self".

I also want to mention that I read several reviews on that had very nasty things to say about the recording quality on this album. Personally, I don't know what the heck they're talking about. I thought that this album was recorded about as perfectly as it's possible to do. I can hear every drum hit and bass note without any muddiness ... a fact that contributed to my belief that this was Rush when I first heard "Far Cry" on the radio. If I was going to complain about the mix from a Rush-fanboy point of view, I might say that Lifeson's guitars are a bit undermixed ... but really, it's only the screaming electric solos that are subdued here. There's lots of acoustic guitar work and guitar overdubs creating a truly symphonic underpinning for the hard-rocking bass and drums, plus a few good standout electric guitar sections. In these reviews, there was also whining about Geddy Lee's overdubbed vocals and the fact that this means they won't be able to perform these songs exactly like this live. True enough, but deal with it, guys! Live concerts don't need to be note-for-note replicas of a studio album. I for one will be lobbying hard to go see Rush on their Snakes and Arrows tour, and from my wife's reaction after hearing this album, I think it won't be too hard to convince her we need to be in attendance.

Now I understand why they wanted to hear from the GEPR regarding this album. Rush wants to be a progressive rock band again, and they want to know if us proggie types think they achieved it. I imagine there are several other prog web sites and publications that reviews were requested of. My opinion: while there's not a lot on this album for those who think that Rush has to sound like "Xanadu", "Tom Sawyer" or "La Villa Strangiato" (though "Far Cry" comes close), I have no problem saying that Snakes and Arrows is a truly great work of progressive rock, and I can only hope that there's a few more like it in Rush's future. All hail Lifeson, Lee and Peart! I'm ready to bend knee, kiss your rings and declare "we're not worthy" once again. How's that for high praise?

But I should say that I would really go nuts over 2112 Part II: We Have Assumed Control if only they would make that album! How cool could that be? -- Fred Trafton

Rush in the mid '70's - Alex Lifeson (guitar), Neil Peart (drums) and Geddy Lee (bass, synthesizers)

If you like science fiction/literary lyrics, the sound of a Rickenbacker bass, and agile lead guitar, the music of this Canadian power trio is for you. Don't be put off by Geddy Lee's screechy vocals and the group's occasional inclinations to heavy metal. This is progressive rock. Odd time signatures abound, Lee is a poll-winning bassist, synthesizers are used intelligently on all but the earliest albums, and the drumming of Neil Peart is, to many, the best there is. Start with Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves. If you don't think these are progressive ...

They get slated a lot in prog circles, but this is mainly due to their fans who tend to get stuck in a rut when they find Rush and think nothing could ever compete. This is nonsense of course but Rush have made some fantastic music. I honestly think there's not a bad track on any album up until Presto. This, for me was the start of their decline. I was very disappointed with Counterparts ... their worst ever. Get anything other than the last 3 (even then, with the exception of Counterparts, they're OK). A great, great band that contains brilliant musicians. I know Peart's lyrics are pseudo-everthing garbage but the music is so good ...
Rush is the epitome of the "power trio." Through their 20+ year career, they've proved themselves to be the leaders at their respective instruments while creating incredible music. They've gone from Zeppelin-like rockers to 20+ minute epics to shorter, but still spectacular pieces of musical wizardry.

One aspect of Rush that draws many fans is the well-written and deep lyrics, almost exclusively written by drummer Neil Peart. The music is generally created by bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson. Geddy has been enshrined in many bass halls-of-fame, and Alex is generally accepted to be a "guitar god." Of course, Neil's thundering and mind-boggling solos also keeps him on top of drumming polls since the 1970's.

The band's early days featured other members, but eventually settled into the Lee, Lifeson, and John Rutsey line-up. They recorded a single ("Not Fade Away"/"Can't Fight It"), and soon, a full LP, Rush. This LP boasted many classics like "Working Man" and "In the Mood," good rockers that seem to end shows brilliantly even 15 years after the LP was released. But due to some problems (one being health), Rutsey left the band and Neil Peart joined in 1974, solidifying the line-up for the next 2 decades and more.

The next 2 efforts, Fly By Night and Caress of Steel, featured some short rockers as well as longer epic-like pieces, such as "By-Tor and the Snowdog." Some songs featured different segments, tied into the story written mainly by Peart. The music seems to be a transition between straight-ahead rock tunes and more complex progressive tracks. The LP that sent Rush over the initial hump was the epic 2112. The title track, "2112," written under influence of Ayn Rand and objectivism, became the masterpiece of Rush music. A 20+ minute piece, telling the story of a man who discovered music in a musicless and conformist society. Lyrically and musically, "2112" was a masterpiece. Other tracks from this LP seemingly acted as Rush's farewell to short rock songs. At the end of this tour, a live LP was recorded called All The World's A Stage. This featured much of the songs that made Rush a musical powerhouse in these early years.

Now the second phase of Rush's career began, with the release of A Farewell to Kings. Classics like "Xanadu" and "Closer to the Heart" represented the softer and the extended pieces that Rush would be creating for the next few years. Synthesizers were now employed by the band, played in the studio and on stage by Lee. The band decided to remain a trio, as the chemistry was perfect. Longer, drawn-out pieces became the norm for Rush, offering intriguing time changes and chord progression, as well as demonstrating each musician's incredible skills on their respective instruments. The next release was Hemispheres. This LP contained 2 short tracks and 2 extended tracks. One of the shorter tracks became one of the fans' favorite: "The Trees." Now keyboards are becoming an integral part of Rush music. Every song now had a major keyboard part, but not intrusive into their music. The long pieces offered incredible musicianship ("La Villa Strangiato"), as well as a great story (in "Cygnus X-1 part II - Hemispheres"). In concert, the 2 parts of "Cygnus" were played together, creating another Rush epic. Sensing the effectiveness of shorter pieces, the next LP, Permanent Waves, offered mostly shorter pieces. "Freewill" became a classic overnight, and the "The Spirit of Radio" guitar lick became a favorite to guitarists all over the world. Two longer tracks, "Jacob's Ladder" and "Natural Science," were not as long as past pieces, but more concise and musically as intricate as their older counterparts.

Then Rush recorded perhaps their most popular LP: Moving Pictures. Many classics came from this album, such as "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight," though it did boast Rush's last extended epic, "The Camera Eye." This was the end of the second phase of Rush's career, one of transition from long epic pieces to shorter, more concise, and intricate songs. As at the end of all of Rush's phases, they recorded a live LP: Exit ... Stage Left. This live LP almost fully representative of the shorter pieces of this phase, as well as some of the longer pieces (though avoiding the "Cygnus" series).

The third phase of Rush began with the aptly titled Signals. The LP featured the new sound of Rush, a collection of shorter but punchier songs. Keyboards have become a very large part of the music, and the interplay of guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards became technically almost impossible to play live. But these are exceptional musicians ... The two LPs that followed, Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows, also followed nearly the same mold. Songs were shorter and often keyboard dominant, but are becoming technically incredibly intricate (such as "Big Money" and "The Enemy Within"). The third phase of Rush ended with the release of Hold Your Fire. The music has become so intricate, that some were almost impossible to pull off live. "Turn The Page" often gave Lee a headache, as it boasted a ridiculously-busy bassline along with a rhythmically-different vocal line. Keyboards took over much of the music, though the interplay between the instruments became utterly incomprehensible. Most of the songs did not function in 4/4, often switching between odd-times. And as in the end of all Rush phases, a live LP was released. A Show of Hands contained the stronger pieces from the phase, though suspiciously absent were songs from Signals.

Moving to a new label, Rush embarked on their present [at the time of this writing --Ed.] phase with Presto. They sought to remove the dominance of keyboards in the music, and go back to a bass-drum-guitar sound. They welcomed this with harder but still intricate songs such as "Show Don't Tell" and "Superconductor." The recent two LPs, Roll the Bones and Counterparts, offered the same direction in music.

Through the history of Rush, they have passed through many distinct phases. Every one of those phases represented a triumph in music, allowing the band to move on. Rush represents what three people can do together, working together for a common goal. Though each are incredible musicians and writers, the combination of the three creates a magic that we all know as Rush. Very seldomly in progressive rock does a band not go through member changes in 20 years. This is a testament to the chemistry that they created over the years, apparent in the slew of masterpieces. -- Mel Huang

Click here for the official Rush web site

Rustichelli E Bordini [Italy]

Opera Prima (73)

Excellent early italian keyboard driven progressive, with vocals. Production is sorta substandard, par with some of the early Le Orme, etc. but despite this, the music really shines. Not to be overlooked.

Rypdal, Terje [Norway]
Updated 10/25/06

Terje Rypdal (71)
What Comes After (74)
Whenever I Seem to be Far Away (74)
What Comes After (74)
Odyssey (75)
After the Rain (76)
Waves (77)
Rypdal, Vitous, DeJohnette (79)
Descendre (80)
To Be Continued (81)
Eos (84)
Chaser (85)
Blue (86)
Singles Collection (89)
Undisonus (90)
Q.E.D. (91)
If Mountains Could Sing (95)
Skywards (97)
Double Concerto / 5th Symphony (00)
Selected Recordings (02, Compilation)
Lux Aeterna (02)
Vossabrygg (06)
Terje Rypdal

Norwegian jazz guitarist that at times reminds of John Abercombie, but truly is in an unclassifiable subgenre of his own. Many albums. One of the best is supposedly Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away.

ECM-style jazz guitarist. Discography in reverse chron. order (newest first).

Undisonus/Ineo Rypdal-composed works; he doesn't play on them. Undisonus is a single-movement work for violin (Terje Tonneson(?)) and orchestra (London Symph, I think). Ineo is for female choir and chamber orchestra. Both are modern but beautiful - partic. one heart-rending choral part in Ineo. Often, the violin part sounds just like one of Terje's guitar solos!

The Singles Collection Terje and the Chasers (forgotten bassist's name; drums Audun Klieve; Allan Dangerfield on keyboards). Quite a departure for Rypdal, the pieces being much shorter and snappier than before, like rather bizarre pop instrumentals. "U N I" is amazing - like two quite different pieces playing at once - but it works!

Blue (Rypdal and the Chasers) Same bass/drums, no keyboards (except Rypdal himself). A mixture of old and new Rypdal.

Chaser Bass/drums as for Blue, Singles. Much harder, almost heavy rock at times - came as quite a shock to me, after:

Eos (Rypdal, David Darling) Electric guitar plus echoplexed cello (plus Casio)! This is one of my personal favourites, but apart from the first (blistering) guitar solo track, is nothing like the later stuff. Much more like his orchestral music, a bit like Eno or T.Dream (though that doesn't really do it justice). The track "Mirage" is a good example. Don't buy it without listening first - I mean that about it being nothing like the later stuff!

To Be Continued (Rypdal/Vitous/DeJohnette) A bit of a mixture, this. Some haunting, atmospheric stuff, some scorching guitar stuff (in DeJohnette's title track) and some amorphous rubbish (IMHO). Due to appear on CD sometime, I believe.

Descendre (Rypdal, Palle Mikkelborg, John Christensen) Again, somewhat mixed; generally cold and wintery (Yes, I know, I'm in danger of "Norwegian Wooding" here, but I can't help it -- I associate lots of Rypdal music with the countryside I used to walk through whilst listening to it!) But for me, there's enough here I like to make the rest worthwhile.

Rypdal/Vitous/DeJohnette The first album I heard (I was drawn to it by the sleeve!) I hated it at first -- all that "random" drumming! -- but somehow it haunted me until I found I could hardly go through a day without playing at least some of it. Again, very little in common with the Singles Collection, all sustained notes and fluttery percussion. But so good!!

Waves (Rypdal, Mikkelborg, Christensen (I think), Sveinung Hövenso (bass)) Actually, from this point backwards, the albums begin to have more in common with the Singles Collection. Here, again a mixture: the opening track (forgot title offhand) and "The Dain Curse" are like somewhat extended Singles, other tracks are more, well, spacious.

After The Rain (Rypdal solo, except Inger Lise Rypdal, vocals) This one comes not far after Eos, for me. Wailing guitar, piano/electric piano and string synth mainly. Very autumnal, and (like Eos) very consistent in style. Suspect never to appear on CD, alas.

Odyssey (Rypdal plus drums/organ/bass/trombone) Very cold and bare mixture of "jamzz-rock" and bleak mournful dirges. Believe it or not, I like it! This was released on CD after the success of his recent stuff, presumably because it comes closer to Chaser-style music than anything else he'd done.

What Comes After (Rypdal, Barre Phillips (bass), Christensen, others) Can hardly remember this one, other than there being about two shortish tracks that I like, and two longish ones I can't stand, and some others I don't like either.

Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away One side has two tracks performed by Rypdal plus jazz/rock ensemble. I find them unlistenable. Other side has Rypdal plus orchestra playing extremely bleak non-jazz, non-rock.

Terje Rypdal First (jazz) album. Very early sounding! Quite different from anything else I've heard him do. Mixture of jamzz-rock and swirling electric piano/oohing and aahing.

Oops! I do seem to have gone on a bit! But I really love this guy's music. I've not included albums led by other artists with Rypdal in the line up (the only one I can recommend is Barre Phillips' Three Day Moon, which might as well be another Rypdal album, rather like Waves).

Hope this gives some indication as to where to go from here! In general, try to hear 'em first, though Rypdal is definitely an acquired taste!

[See Harris, Don "Sugarcane" | Mantler, Michael]

Click here for an excellent Terje Rypdal fan web site