The World Will End On Friday (77), Anything Wrong? (79)
German, Sky-label prog, compared to Pink Floyd.
Anything Wrong? consists of six songs between 4 to 7 minutes in length. They play a symphonic music close to the Swiss band Galaxy and Austrian band Eela Craig with some influenses from German bands Novalis, Jane and hints of Anyone's Daughter. Shaa Khan's music is good but not great. The music is very melodic with some nice interplays between guitar and keyboards. They have their good moments but overall nothing special. The band consists of five members that plays the usual instruments: guitar, drums, keyboards, bass and they have a singer that sings pretty well. -- Andre Hagberg
The Slaughterhouse Tapes (94, Cassette)
The Dawn of Time (98)
From Dusk Till Dawn (07)
Shades of Dawn - Theo Labs (Bass, Guitar), Hans-Jürgen Klein (Guitars,
Lead Vocals), Cyrill Stoletzky (Keyboards, Synth, Pianoforte), Peter
Schneider (Keyboards, Synth, Vocals), Christopher Struwe (Drums, Vocals)
Shades of Dawn calls themselves "the only Progressive Rock band in Dusseldorf", which I can't argue with. They have been around since 1993 (with a few line-up shifts), but The Dawn of Time is their debut CD. Their sound is heavily symphonic, upbeat (almost "sunny" in an early Yes or Starcastle sort of way, though without the vocal harmonies), and well played. The music tends to have simpler song type structures in the vocal sections, and get more intricate and serious in the instrumental parts, of which there are many. Vocalist Hans-Jürgen Klein sings well in english and doesn't really have much of a german accent. There are no standout flashy instrumentals on this album (with the exception of "Toccata con fuoco", a solo piano piece reminiscent of Keith Emerson's modern classical solo piano works), this band is trying for more of an ensemble sound, and they clearly want it to be easy on the ears. Perhaps a better comparison musically would be countrymen Eloy or even early Camel, though perhaps a bit rougher around the edges.
The first few songs on the album are the most accessable ones, they are very much "songs" with a verse-chorus structure, and sweetened with string ensembles to the point that I sometimes think I'm listening to Gary Wright's Dream Weaver. Not that that's a bad thing ... I love those lush string ensemble washes. There are also sections where a more heavy organ sound is the prevalent keyboard texture, so it's not all sweetness. Even on the lush "stringy" cuts, there are good instrumental breaks to add interest and variety. The thick keyboard textures are juxtaposed against biting guitar and punchy drumming, the result sounding both lush and crunchy at the same time.
But the album really takes off with the instrumental "Ulysses Rollercoaster" which features the previously-mentioned "Toccata con fuoco" piano solo as its introduction. The remaining sections of this piece feature some excellent Dave Gilmourish guitar work and thick string keyboard orchestration, making it a bit reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, though not as bluesy. This pair of cuts (#'s 4 and 5 on the CD) make it worth the price of admission by themselves.
The remaining cuts continue in the alternating simplified vocal/complex instrumental prog vein as the album's opening songs. Really, this reminds me a bit of the way the old Yes typically did things ... complex music until it gets to the vocal parts, then simplify to a more standard song structure for the duration of the vocals. This keeps the music accessable while allowing room for experimentation and complexity in the instrumental parts. It worked for Yes, and it also works for Shades of Dawn.
In summary, this album is perhaps a bit more accessable than I might wish for, but overall it's an excellent studio debut effort by this german quintet (Hans-Jürgen Klein tells me this isn't really their first CD which they recorded in '94, but has not been released to date). I have no qualms about recommending it unless you just don't like anything but RIO or avant-prog, which this CD is not. -- Fred Trafton
Hans-Jürgen Klein actually took issue with the Gary Wright comparison when the review of The Dawn of Time came out a few years ago. I never got the chance to apologize online, so I guess now's a good time ... sorry about that, Herr Klein. It wasn't supposed to be an insult ... I actually sorta like Gary Wright, though I'm guessing it was the implication that The Dawn of Time had some poppy leanings which was the real problem. So now, here we are in 2007 with a new release from Shades of Dawn, and a new chance to put my foot in my mouth. Let's see if I can do better this time.
From Dusk Till Dawn is actually the band's first album chronologically, recorded in 1994. Well, sort of. The band did a 16-track recording, but soon discovered that this was not enough tracks to get the sound they were looking for. They gave up on this album and recorded The Dawn of Time. Then, in 2003, they resurrected the earlier recordings and re-recorded some of the parts they didn't like from the first recording (correcting, for instance, microphone placement errors, etc.) and adding four newly-recorded tracks. In the interim, founding member Wolfgang Schmidt died of a heart attack in 2000, and so this CD is dedicated to his memory.
Once again, I'll have to say this isn't a particularly "difficult" album, containing very melodic music. But it's not simplistic either ... very symphonic, with string-patched polysynths and organ thickening the sound behind the vocals and guitar and analog synth solos. The vocals are also not particularly difficult, but are easy on the ears singing lyrics on many topics, such as "President Why", a question which may be equally validly asked about the leaders of many counties. The lyrics are in English, and sometimes the syntax is odd enough that it's obviously written by someone for whom English isn't their first language. Still, it's always comprehensible. The unusual use of language is actually charming in its own way, and the slight German accents are not at all objectionable.
For my taste, From Dusk Till Dawn is a better album than The Dawn of Time, and I liked The Dawn of Time just fine. And they're not resting on their laurels, either ... they are working on a new album, titled Graffity's Rainbow, though they're not making any promises about a release date. And they're still "the only progressive rock band from Düsseldorf". -- Fred Trafton
Click here for
the Shades of Dawn web site
Click here to order The Dawn of Time or From Dusk Till Dawn from Musea Records
Welcome to the Freakroom (07)
Whispers and Screams (10) Download FLAC or MP3
Shadow Circus - (not in photo order) John Fontana (guitar, keyboards), David Bobick (vocals),
Corey Folta (drums), Matt Masek (bass, cello, backing vocals) and Zach Tenorio (keyboards)
Original entry, 8/10/07:
This album is best described as "rockin'" rather than "cerebral" or "virtuosic". Not that there's any lack of good musicianship, it's just not about blowing you away with showy displays of musical calisthenics. The tunes are all (dare I say it?) "catchy" and fun, and judging from the YouTube videos (see links below), the the lead singer David Bobick would give Peter Gabriel a run for his money as far as theatrical delivery goes. Not "high art", but a heck of a lot of fun, and easy to recommend. Good stuff. -- Fred Trafton
Shadow Circus' sophomore album Whispers and Screams appears to be self-released. The album cover art is stunning, and I was looking forward to hearing it. However, I must say that, in spite of the fact that I like the compositions on this album, the sound quality is so strange that it actually hurts my ears. Not like it's noisy or anything, but there are odd resonances in the mix that literally make it difficult for me to listen to. I've never heard anything quite like it. It sets my teeth on edge, as if all the microphones are on the verge of feeding back ... or something like that.
But, since I do like the music from a purely musical standpoint, I'm going to give it another chance and play it somewhere other than my car ... perhaps it's just some strange interaction between my car stereo and/or car interior acoustics and this CD. But I don't have that problem with other CD's, so I don't get it.
Sorry for the backhanded complement here guys, but I think I would like this album if only I could hear it. It's just strange. Based on this experience, I find Whispers and Screams hard to recommend ... but I'll let you know if I find the sound to be better on another stereo. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Shadow Circus' web site
Click here for Shadow Circus' MySpace page
Click here to order Welcome to the Freakroom from ProgRock Records
Click on one of the following songs to watch Shadow Circus on YouTube: "Locomotive Breath" (Jethro Tull cover), "Murder" (David Gilmour cover), "Inconvenient Compromise", "Storm Rider", "Radio People"
Shadow Gallery (92)
Carved in Stone (95)
Room V (05)
Prime Cuts (07)
Shadow Gallery - (Not in photo order) - Brendt Allman (Elec & Acoustic
Guitars, Vocals ), Mike Baker (Lead Vocals), Carl Cadden-James (Bass,
Vocals, Flute, Fretless Bass), Chris Ingles (Piano, Keyboards), Joe
Nevolo (Drums), Gary Wehrkamp (Piano, Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals)
Hailing from Pennsylvania, Shadow Gallery formed in the early 1990's and over the last ten years have become one of the most popular and beloved of all the progressive metal bands. Well known the world over for their extraordinary and layered vocals, metal crunch, epic songs, and instrumental brilliance, Shadow Gallery have recorded four albums of excellent prog-metal, each one improving on the last.
The bands self-titled debut in 1992 is a sweeping menagerie of lush vocal harmonies, orchestral keyboards, and virtuoso guitar work. From the melodic opener "The Dance of Fools", with its swirling synth and piano playing from Chris Ingles, to the memorable "Say Goodbye to the Morning", which displays Mike Baker as a vocalist to be reckoned with, this album shows a band on the rise. There is also a seventeen-minute epic, titled "The Queen of the City of Ice" which shows the ingenious writing talents of bassist Carl Cadden-James. While the band still finding their direction at this time, this is a solid release, somewhat similar in style to what contemporaries Dream Theater and Fates Warning were doing at the time, but much more symphonic. Shadow Gallery relied less on the metal and more on the progressive, and utilized many of their influences such as Queen, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Styx, and Kansas, to create a unique sound.
The bands big break came with the release of Carved in Stone on the Magna Carta label and subsequent contributions to a few tribute CD's. Carved in Stone is a prog-metal classic, heavier than its predecessor, and even stronger vocally. At this point Gary Wehrkamp joined the band on guitars, keyboards, and backing vocals, plus he soon turned out to be a powerful writer as well. Gary's contributions on lead guitar alongside mainstay axe-man Brendt Allman made for one of the most potent dual-guitar partnerships in the genre. In addition, the band at this point had fully realized the potential of recording multiple lead and backing vocal sections, creating a massive wall of sound previously unheard of in progressive metal. Songs like "Crystalline Dream" and "Don't Ever Cry, Just Remember" rock hard, but contain soaring harmonies and complex guitar and keyboard arrangements. The bands penchant for writing long epics continues, with the inclusion of the twenty-one minute "Ghostship." This is a trend that would be fully realized with the release of their magnum opus, the concept album Tyranny.
Tyranny had long been the dream of Carl Cadden-James, and the band turned that dream into reality in 1998. Based on a story of a world full of war, confusion, and inner turmoil, the band created a concept album for the ages, comparable with such classics as Thick as a Brick, The Wall, and Operation Mindcrime. All of the bands trademarks are in full force on Tyranny; searing guitars, symphonic keyboards, and fantastic vocals. Cadden-James' emotional lyrics played a perfect foil to the bands musical prowess, the CD's two acts spread out over seventy minutes is an exciting and intriguing listen, certainly one of progressive music's future classics.
The band took a few years off to recover from the extreme stress of writing such a complex and time consuming work of art, but returned to the studio in 2000 and put together the strong Legacy. In what might be the bands crowning achievement, Legacy is a return to more song-based material, and features perhaps the best melodies the band have ever recorded. Songs like "Cliffhanger 2", "Colors", and the exquisite title track contain beautiful harmonies and rock solid playing. The band by this point has really hit its stride, and combined unique melodies with intense complex instrumentation like no other band, with the exception of Dream Theater or Symphony X. Although admittedly burnt out from writing and recording the adventurous Tyranny, the band was able to put together the thirty-five minute epic "First Light" for this CD, which is sheer proof that Shadow Gallery's time off to regroup refreshed their writing skills in a positive way.
Newcomers to Shadow Gallery should start with either Tyranny or Legacy, as both are extremely mature and balanced recordings by the band. However, all four albums are classic and essential for any progressive metal collection. -- Peter Pardo
This great band is the second one to put out an album on the Magna Carta
label, Magellan being the first with
Hour of Restoration. This is not the only similarity. They bring a
heavier brand of progressive much like Magellan, quiter acoustic parts being mixed
with some heavy metal-like guitar riffs. The lead
vocalist/producer/keyboard player/lyricist*-etc. Carl Cadden-James sounds
on certain songs a lot like Geoff Tate (which certainly is no criticism,
on the contrary). The 17-minute epic "Lady of the City of Ice" is
fantastic, no less. For lovers of heavy Rush,
Magellan and in general bombastic
* A reader wrote in to tell me that
Carl Cadden-James is not the main vocalist of Shadow Gallery, but Mike
Baker. Noted. -- Fred Trafton
|After reading the previous review of this band, and a couple encouraging reviews, I picked this gem up. First listen, it appeared to be a regular lite-metal band. However, on subsequent listens, I keep picking up more. My best description of this band would be a milder Dream Theater. They are definitely bombastic, and do have moments of "gee, aren't we good?," but they're not too overpretentious. They also have some interesting innovations in songs (a flute?!), but the best song on the album is probably "The Queen of the City of Ice," a 17 minute long epic. It has a some total of maybe three minutes of metal; the rest is just acoustic. First listen, it seemed kind of dull and repetitive, but like most good prog, it grows on you. Also of note: "Say Goodbye to the Morning" uses the "widdly-widdly" keyboard sound that Mark Kelly uses in Marillion, making it sound a bit like them. If you like Dream Theater, or a cross between lite-metal, Rush, and acoustic guitar, you'll probably enjoy this CD.|
|Room V is a sequel to Tyranny, another concept album. Prime Cuts, as the name implies, is a compilation album. Songs were edited to shorter versions to allow 12 cuts to appear on this compilation. It appears to be the only Shadow Gallery album still in print on the Magna Carta web site. However, all but the first album are available on Amazon. -- Fred Trafton|
[See Amaran's Plight]
Click here for
Shadow Gallery's web site
Watercourse way (76)
Too Far to Whisper (77)
The Dreams of Children (85)
Folksongs for a Nuclear Village (87)
The Odd Get Even (90)
Magic Theater (94)
|Their first album Watercourse Way was a stunning mixture of blistering guitar driven jazz-rock fusion, cerebral piano acoustics and powerful dynamics. Shadowfax, at the time, appeared to be one of the most promising new bands around. Unfortunately it took them seven years to do their next album, and in the meantime they'd squandered their brilliance, as the new stuff (and all albums since) was merely warmed-up new-age world music that couldn't cut through soft butter.|
Ring of Roses (92)
Through the Looking Glass (94)
Mad as a Hatter (96)
Shadowland - Karl Groom (Guitars), Nick
Harradence (Drums), Clive Nolan (Vocals,Keyboards), Ian Salmon (Bass),
Mike Varty (Keyboards)
Neo-prog band led by Karl Groom and Clive Nolan (ex-of Pendragon), much better than most. They move out of the neo-prog umbrella in several places on the album and explore some new ideas with fortitude. Not bad, especially considering one of the guys comes from one of the worst bands on the planet :-)
|This is the first release by this UK neo-progressive band, which includes Clive Nolan, the keyboardist from Pendragon. The music is quite similar to Pendragon, mixed in with influences from Rush and Marillion. However, the overall effect does not sound as derivative as one might expect, primarily due to the melodic abilities and crisp execution displayed by the band. This release was at the top of the Dutch progressive music charts for a couple of months, dethroning Camel's Dust And Dreams!|
Shadowland was (is?) a neo-progressive rock band fronted by
keyboardist/producer Clive Nolan, one of the busiest men in prog in the
1990's. Their debut Ring of Roses was one of the best of the early-90's
neo-prog crop, and it still holds up well today, even if some of the
production ideas (some of the synth sounds, heavily processed
drums) anchor it solidly to its own time. Musically this has energy
comparable to Nolan's other project Arena,
but is more melodic, sometimes in the way of Pendragon,
and less imitative of Marillion (even though that
influence *is* there). The songs range from anthemic, at times
near-stadium-rock numbers ("The Whistleblower", the title track) to a
classically-influenced symphonic instrumental ("The Kruhulick Syndrome"),
with a couple of 10+ tracks between them combining elements of both, all
very melodic and nicely dynamic. Nolan's keyboards and Karl Groom's
hard-edged but melodic guitar (in the Rothery school of big power chords,
soaring solos and multi-tap delayed rhythm parts) create a big slab of
sound while the rhythm section of bassist Ian Salmon and drummer Nick
Harradence keeps things moving nicely. Nolan's vocals are prolific and
prominent, and while fielding a certain amount of pathos, they are quite
enjoyable, if not terribly distinctive. Apart from one or two less
striking tracks at the middle, this is an excellent album. The album was
originally released on the Dutch label SI, but after they went out with a
whimper in 1996, it was re-released by the British label Verglas with a
new cover and artwork by IQ's Peter Nicholls, as well as two bonus tracks
which had originally appeared on SI sampler discs. Of these, "Dorian
Gray" is an atmospheric synth piano/voice piece, but too short to really
make an impact, while "I, Judas" is a throwaway rock number.
Through the Looking Glass introduced a slightly darker and heavier sound, losing some of the catchiness for Arena-like bombast, though the overall style remains the same. Occasionally things veer close to prog-metal in terms of guitar and rhythm section heaviness, there is some stronger classical influence in Nolan's keyboard playing on "When the World Turns to White", and for the only time in the band's history he plays a real violin on this track. At the other end, the more melodic material is represented by the elegant "Mindgames", which grows nicely with its layered arrangement. The end result is a less accessible and in some ways less diverse album than the first one, though probably preferred by those who like the heavier variety of neo-prog. Verglas gave their version a similar treatment as with the first album, the bonus track being a single b-side called "So the Music Stops", a very gripping piano ballad dedicated to the late, great Geoff Mann.
Mad as a Hatter was the first Shadowland album released by Verglas and the first one where some of the writing was done by others than Nolan, namely by Salmon and the band's live keyboardist Mike Varty, who made his recording debut with the band here. This album is somewhat lighter in tone than its predecessor and probably the most melodically polished of all three, a few songs like the acoustic-guitar driven ballad "Father" being almost straight-ahead pop tunes (very good ones, though). Still, lots of more progressive efforts with more room for some fine instrumental work, especially "Mephisto Bridge" and "The Seventh Year". The album's only miss is the title track which is overextended with some diverse parts in a way that sounds forced, complex for the sake of complexity, and overall this is their most concise album, though IMO not the best one. The closing track "Salvation Comes" is a relatively simple but very dynamic and powerful ballad whose nicely arranged backing choir features quite a few prominent names of British neo-prog. If this is to be the last Shadowland track recorded, at least it is a fitting and touching closer to their story. -- Kai Karmanheimo
[See Arena |
Neo (UK) |
Nolan, Clive |
Strangers on a Train |
Alya (00, 2CD)
The Last Summer (02)
Shakary 2006 (06)
Shakary - Lele Hoffman (guitars), Aluisio Maggini (guest, Clepsydra, most vocals),
Walter Calloni (guest, ex-PFM, drums) and Scandy (musical concept, bass guitar,
some vocals, some keyboards). Not pictured is Sandor Kwiatkowski (Lyrics & booklet's
Shakary started as an offshoot of Clepsydra, featuring one of their founding members, guitarist Lele Hoffman. Hoffman left Clepsydra around 1995 to pursue this band, or to be more precise, to pursue the Alya project. Alya started life as a set of lyrics written by Sandor Kwiatkowski for use in the second Clepsydra album, but this never happened. Instead, the project grew to epic proportions and took on a life of its own. It was to be five years in the making before its eventual release in 2000.
The best way to explain what Alya is about is to quote Hoffman's own words: "Alya is a concept album, inspired by the books of the Apocalypse, mixed with an (unhappy) personal love story. Everything happens in a bar with the main character, lost in his thoughts. Helped by a (really existing???) man, he undertakes a personal internal travel based on memories, hate, love, rage, fears, and hope. Little by little, along the album his personal story is more and more mixed with the happening of the Apocalypse".
This explains the concept, but doesn't tell you about the music ... which is spectacular! If you're a fan of symphonic prog, you're gonna love this CD! Thick and wonderfully over-produced, with superb production quality, this release has everything you could ask for. Hoffman's guitar work is excellent throughout, and he keeps the interest up by doing lots of different styles. From Steve Hackett-inspired passages to metal stylings along the lines of Rush's Alex Lifeson, and back to quiet nylon-string classical guitar (played in a rainstorm by an open fire), this CD has it all.
But what keeps this album interesting is the profuse use of guest musicians, much like what Arjen Lucassen does for his Ayreon albums. Walter Calloni's (ex-PFM) drumming is superb, and that's coming from a guy who doesn't even notice drums unless they're up there on a par with Bill Bruford, Neil Peart (Rush) or Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater). Calloni is easily in their league. Guest vocalist Aluisio Maggini (Clepsydra) is excellent, though I must admit I wish he had sung in his native Italian rather than the accented English. Other standout guests include Carlo Cantini, who plays violin solos ranging from the gypsy folk style opening the first CD to scorching solos along the lines of Eddie Jobson, Stefano Pista Salvadè, who plays the melancholy trumpet solo which opens the second CD, and all the keyboardists (many people are listed as playing "some keyboards"), who play lots of "vintage" keyboards including Hammond B3, Mellotron and analog synthesizers. Lots of variation in sound and style ... all excellent.
The only downsides I can think of on this CD are the vocals, which I have already mentioned (Aluisio Maggini has a wonderful voice, but the Italian accent does grate on my nerves a bit) and the fact that things drag a bit for the first half of the second CD ... a long single CD might have been better. Still, these are minor problems as far as I am concerned (even The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway drags a bit in the first part of the 2nd album, so Shakary's in pretty good company here). I give this album my highest recommendation. Essential sympho-prog!
Musically, this is what some reviewers would call "neo-prog", but in this case I don't mean that in a negative way at all. Pristine studio techniques give this album a very modern sound, as do the mostly digital synthesizers, which are the most "neo" things about the album. The pieces are all relatively song-structured as in verse-chorus format and not overly complex, but are excellently orchestrated and performed, with lots of variations on the themes played by different instruments and with different embellishments to keep them interesting. So, the album is both easy on the ears at the first listen, yet also gives the listener more subtlties to hear upon repeated listenings.
The Last Summer isn't quite as epic in its scope as Alya, but in a way seems to extend that album, once again with songs about endings of various kinds. The religious overtones of the first album aren't as prevalent, but the sadness at things coming to an end is in sync with Alya. To tell the truth, there may be an even stronger concept going on here, but if so I don't quite get it. Still, this doesn't prevent me from enjoying the music. Recommended to all fans of more modern prog! If you're stuck in the Yes, Genesis and King Crimson "Golden Age", The Last Summer may be a bit too song-oriented for you.
According to their web site, the band is currently working on another new album! -- Fred Trafton
[See Clepsydra |
Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) |
Click here for the Shakary web site
Vol. 1 (72)
Complex jazzy prog comparable to Moving Gelatine Plates.
Thin Pillow (04)
David Shamrock played drums for two experimental but very different bands, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Thinking Plague. Members of both bands help him out on Thin Pillow, his first solo album. Shamrock is the composer, and plays drums, guitars and keyboards. He's assisted by SGMers Carla Kihlstedt on violin and viola, and Dan Rathbun in production and mixing, and by Thinking Plague's Mike Johnson on guitars.
So I guess it won't come as a surprise to hear that Thin Pillow sounds a bit like both SGM and Thinking Plague. However, since Thin Pillow is an instrumental album, it lacks the angry belligerence of SGM's vocals and the operatic soprano of Thinking Plague. Some of the guitar strangeness could be right off of Fred Frith's Guitar Solos album. Add to this a dash of 20th-century modern classical non-harmonies and angular, jagged note runs that are what passes for "melody" and this album lands squarely into what's usually called RIO music. Not for the faint of heart, but if you like the avant stylings of SGM or Thinking Plague or their musical cousins (i.e. Henry Cow, 5UU's etc.), then you should find Thin Pillow to your liking. The compositions are all quite good with the possible exception of "tiny vacations" which sounds as if it's a string of randomly generated (or perhaps "algorithmically" generated by machine) notes played by acoustic guitar samples on a sampling machine. Perhaps that's the reason for the title ... a "tiny vacation" from composing? But still, even this is pretty interesting, and it doesn't go on for too long. If it is composed and played on a guitar, then the guitarist must be superhuman to be able to even read the notes, much less play it. But I don't think so.
Judging from the lack of corporate logos or bar codes on the CD sleeve, Thin Pillow appears to be self-released, so if this sounds good to you, click on the link to Shamrock's web site (or CD Baby site) below to order. I'm not always a fan of this kind of music, but if it's done well, I like it. I liked Thin Pillow, so there you have it. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||[See Sleepytime Gorilla Museum | Thinking Plague]|
Shape of the Rain (71, a.k.a. Riley, Riley, Wood and Waggett)
Someone To Turn To (70)
Scottish folk/prog band w/acid guitar.
Planet X (99, First solo album later to become a band name)
Black Utopia (03)
Blood of the Snake (06)
Molecular Heinosity (09)
With Black Country Communion:
With Alice Cooper:
With Dream Theater:
With Billy Idol:
With Planet X:
Original Entry 7/22/11:
Then several years passed, and I got to hear Sherinian's Planet X performing at NEARFEST in 2004. My first reaction, after reeling my jaw up from the floor, was "Holy Shit! How could I have been SO wrong?" Because far from being boring, Sherinian and his friends put on one of the most amazing displays of instrumental prowess I've ever seen. Not just Sherinian either, though both his stage presence and the fact that I'm a dilettante keyboardist did keep me riveted on his performance most of the time. I totally take it back. Far from Falling Into Infinity being Sherinian's fault, I suspect its boringness was the proximate cause of his leaving Dream Theater to find something more interesting to do. Well, good for him then ... and the rest of us!
If you read much of the GEPR at all, you've heard me using the high number of CD's I receive for review as an excuse for infrequent updates and not being able to keep up with the number of prog bands out there. Well, a side-effect of this large volume is that I sometimes don't get around to purchasing music I'm interested in just because I've already got so much to listen to. Such was the case with Derek Sherinian. Though I've made note of each new solo and Planet X album that's come out, I've never got around to hearing any of them. But now that's about to change, because I'm going to be getting a promo of his new solo album Oceana that will be available in September of 2011. As soon as I receive it, I'll review it here, so come back soon. If the album is only half as cool as the cover art, it should be great! -- Fred Trafton
I expected to hear keyboard work and soloing similar to what I heard from his (former?) band Planet X. This is very guitar-like in the way he bends pitches, trills and makes fast speed-metal-like arpeggios. There's a little of this on Oceana, but overall I'd say it reminds me more of Chick Corea from the Return to Forever / Elektric Band days, or maybe even a bit of Eddie Jobson from the first UK album. In other words, fusion, not speed metal at all.
Well, OK, when guest guitarist Tony MacAlpine cranks up, it gets pretty speed metallish sometimes. On the other hand, sometimes the guitar work really reminds me of Allan Holdsworth, though I'm not sure if this is MacAlpine, one of Sherinian's other guests, or possibly even Sherinian himself playing in "guitar mode". Whatever, Oceana is a collection of really good fusion pieces with influences from other musical genres also playing in "guest-starring" roles. Production, composition and technical execution are all second to none. It doesn't get any better than this. Highly recommended!
One more thing – the album cover is great! Right-click the cover photo to open it up full-screen and check out the detail on the vintage keyboards at the bottom of the ocean. — Fred Trafton
|Links||[See Ayreon | Black Country Communion | Dream Theater | Planet X | Platypus]|
Greg Sherman is the keyboardist for Glass, where he plays the usual prog keyboards like Mellotron and organ. But on his solo album, Zutique, it's all solo (instrumental) piano, very beautiful, pastoral and emotional. It reminds me quite a bit of Keith Jarrett's piano excursions, though perhaps not as jazzy, sounding as if there's some improv going on against a structured backbone of composition.
Bottom line is: very nice, very well played, but not my style. Solo piano starts to tire my ears after awhile, no matter how well it's being played. I like to hear some organs and synths and ... well, I suppose I'm too much of a prog-head for the subtlety of this kind of music. If you're not, you may find it an enjoyable release. Like his brother Jeff's solo works, whether or not you're a Glass fan will have little to do with how much you enjoy this release. -- Fred Trafton
[See Glass |
Click here for Greg Sherman's page on the Relentless Pursuit web site
Above and Beyond (02, only 246 hand-numbered copies available)
Home (03, to be released August 2003)
Jeff Sherman - "The Artist as he Sees Himself" (Disclaimer: Sherman supplied me with
this photo, I didn't choose it! But it is as abstract as the CD itself, so I suppose
Jeff Sherman is the bassist for Glass, but on his first solo effort, Above and Beyond, he plays mostly keyboards and sound effects. Or maybe I should use the old cliché: he "plays the studio". An old cliché perhaps, but an apt description of Above and Beyond.
The first three cuts, "Above", "Beyond" and "Miles Monk and Mom" are almost throw-aways, being very short (1:30 to 2:40) electronic noodling. "MM&M" doesn't really sound much to me like the namesakes (OK, I don't really know what Sherman's Mom sounds like ...). To be honest, if the whole album was like this, I don't think it would be very interesting. But the pace picks up on the fourth cut, the 11:20 "Heaven's Reply". This begs the question, "Reply to what question?", but being an all-instrumental cut, this isn't answered. The reply comes in the form of spacey electric piano, synths and sound effects coming in several unrelated sections of evolving chords, arpeggios, swoops and whooshes, somewhat Edgar Froese-like, circa Macula Transfer. Not bad if you like this sort of thing, which I do. The next cut, "Big Sur 9-14-00", clocking in at 12:01 is similar, but has a rhythmic backbone that continues throughout the piece, and features brash, brassy digital keyboard patterns to create icy steel soundscapes which eventually melt into organic string washes, breaking surf, and bird chirps. Also a good piece.
But the centerpiece of the CD is the 29:21 "Austasia Part I*" which begins with a pipe organ theme which is subsequently augmented by electric pianos, stringy synths and sampled special effects. It also contains the entire first movement of Beethoven's 5th symphony playing alongside these sections, punctuated by voices speaking poetry and a piano theme played by brother Greg Sherman. I must say this piece baffled me a bit, particularly the inclusion of Beethoven's 5th, which seemed to have nothing to do with anything else that was going on. But it is very much like a weird acid trip or something, with reality seeming to fade in and out of the hallucinations. So I must say that overall, this is also an interesting piece. I wonder if there's a "Part II" out there somewhere?
All in all, an interesting solo album by Jeff Sherman, though I must say that if you're a Glass fan, this is irrelevant to whether or not you'll like this album ... this is quite different from Glass. Much more like Edgar Froese.
Sherman has announced the August 2003 release of another solo album called Home with guest Hugh Hopper on bass, but I (obviously) haven't heard that one yet. -- Fred Trafton
[See Glass |
Hopper, Hugh |
Click here for Jeff Sherman's page on the Relentless Pursuit web site
|While in Japan I was told they only had one album, self titled. The first track "Oni" sounds very much like Foxtrot-period Genesis with a female lead singer (singing in Japanese, of course). The rest of the album is not as derivative, but not all that interesting either IMHO. Very old stuff, mid seventies.|
Shingetsu is considered the apex of the second generation of Japanese prog bands, bridging the
gap between the psychedelic goofiness and tentative symphonic stabs of the likes of
Cosmos Factory and Far
East Family Band, and the bombast of the mainstream accepted
Novela and others that came after them. Shingetsu (Belle
Antique 9474) has eight exquisitely crafted tracks of elegant symphonic rock that takes its cues
from mid-seventies Genesis and Steve
Hackett's early solo work. Lustrous acoustic guitar and light keyboard washes alternate
with louder and more sumptuous sections, where Haruhiko Tsuda's guitar gets to shine with smooth,
streaking leads, only occasionally ("Oni") displaying a bit of angular edge that recalls the
Fripp-influence of Hackett tracks
like "Ace of Wands". Akira Hanamoto's keyboards are in a supportive role but combine Mellotron
and early polysynths with considerable style. Compared to 1980's Japanese symph bands, Shingetsu
are less bombastic and more traditional, with nothing too heavy or complex, yet with similar eye
for small detail and melodic finesse. Also absent are female vocals, so characteristic of the 80's
scene, though Makoto Kitayma's soft and pure, yet well-sustaining voice occasionally comes close
to straddling the gender divide. Instrumental and dynamic range are best displayed on the very
accurately named "Fragments of the Dawn", whose charmingly discreet instrumental break combines
glimmering synth and guitar notes to an almost pointillistic effect of unassuming beauty, which
is then shattered by a more bombastic vocal recapitulation highlighting the Mellotron. Overall,
the album sound stays very warm and pretty without getting syrupy, except for the sole
instrumental, "Freeze", where the Korg PS3200 synthesizer is called to provide a range of
chilling tones for what seems like a march across the Antarctic. Not terribly original or
striking, Shingetsu is a pretty little album that should appeal to fans of old-style
melodic sympho or perhaps early IQ.
Shingetsu never released another studio album, but there are at least two compilations around, neither of which I have heard, but which are allegedly of poor quality. Akai Me no Kagami is a live recording, while Kagaku no Yoru (aka Night Collector) features unreleased live and studio material from not only Shingetsu, but also their previous incarnation Serenade. Furthermore, 1998 saw the release of Hiraku Sazanami by Makoto Kitayama with the Shingetsu Project, a collection of re-recorded tracks from between 1972 and 1996. -- Kai Karmanheimo
Mellow Clouds II (92)
The album Mellow Clouds II is an album of long symphonic conceptual pieces, which could be grouped in the same category as stuff like The Enid or Cyrille Verdeaux or Gandalf. Shirakawa has created a very serene, often introspective soundscape using a battery of electronics and synthesizers galore, and for the most part it doesn't sound particularly electronic, but very natural and carefully composed. Dynamics are used generously, and some of the pieces are rhythmically very strong, in a symphonic sort of way (and yes, there is another "bolero" variation here as well). Shirakawa does everything himself with no outside help, even right down to the cover artwork. completely instrumental. Brilliant and recommended.
Coming To A Head (69), Take Me To The Mountains (70), In The Prime Of Life (??), Psychedelic Yesterday (78)
Ursa Major (80), Embryo (80), Phantom (80), Firemusic (81), Thoughts Of War (81), Assassin (84)
Stourtsite (78), The Taste of Time (??)
Started as Beatles-influenced band, later became hard-rock/prog.
Shub Niggurath (86), Les Morts Vont Vite (86), Live (89), C'étaíent de Très Grands Vents (91)
Shub-Niggurath is music from the Art Zoyd/Magma/Univers Zero school, but much more dense, dark, and atonal, ranging from beautiful to frightening. It's great stuff, impossible to describe in words accurately, but I WILL say it's probably not for everyone. If you like the aforementioned three bands, then chances are you'll like these guys, and if you don't - you wont. If you're not sure about it, I'd start out with something by one of the other bands first.
This RIO band has been compared to Magma, but C'étaíent de Très Grands Vents displays few characteristics with which we usually associate Magma: furious rhythms, Gregorian chanting, and bleating horn races. Instead we find a nearly all-instrumental, only occasionally rhythmic, dark nightmare. The opening track, "Glaciations," builds from a faint hum to a distorted cacophony of clangs and bangs, Frith-like scratchy guitar feedback, and growling bass - similar in spirit to Henry Cow's Western Culture period. The rest of the album follows similar strategies. This album will probably attract hardcore RIO-heads, but those who need symphonic underpinnings and/or harmonic development will more than likely dismiss this as an abstract mess. Perhaps that's the main fault I find with this album. unlike Univers Zero and Henry Cow, Shub Niggurath never really resolves their formidable noise attacks with any sense of convergence or development. Most of the album is nearly inaudible, and even when it does turn up the juice, it doesn't pack the emotional whallop of Univers Zero's "La Faulx" or Henry Cow's "Half the Sky." So in that respect its a dissapointment; not for what you hear (which is shred-worthy in and of itself), but for what you don't hear.
Spoken of in the same breath as Magma for some weird reason. Shub-Niggurath are also often described as "fusion." Both these descriptions are wildly misleading. Imagine Univers Zero's "La Faulx" but without the catchy bits! There is little identifiable melody, it's mad drums, distorted bass and guitar and wild horns in a very dark mixture of quiet haunting backgrounds and insane crescendo. It's completely fantastic. Darkly beautiful. "Prométhée" from C'étaíent de Très Grands Vents (this track was called "Prométhée Foudroyé" on their earlier live Auricle tape) has Stella Vander-style vocals which are operatic and hair raising. Incredible.
Dark, spacious and often disturbing are the three best adjectives to describe Shub-Niggurth's C'étaíent De Très Grands Vents CD released by Musea. The phrase "Shub-Niggurath" comes from the writings of one of the masters of the horror genre, H.P. Lovecraft. The music on C'étaíent would fit very well as a soundtrack for many of Lovecraft's stories. Instrumentation consists of bass (Alain Ballaud), electric guitar, piano, harmonium (Jean-Luc Herve), drums (either Michel Kervinio or Edward Perraud, both on "Prométhéé"), bass trombones (Veronique Verdier), and occasional voice (Sylvette Claudet). Analogy is perhaps the best way to describe Shub-Niggurath's music. Imagine a mix of Present or early Univers Zero with Henry Cow improvisations, playing while on downers. C'étaíent opens with the seven minute "Glacíatíons." The song consists of quiet, icy emanations broken by occasional fissues of frenzied drums, bass and guitar. "Océan" is four minutes of meandering trombone improvisation and distorted guitar, followed by one minute of intense zeuhlish improvisation that calls to mind Happy Family, then a long fade into nothing. "Prométhéé" is a clear vocal line sung against crashing, discordant guitar chords. The vocals are eventually replaced with meandering bass, much like the trombone of "Océan." Herve just bangs out distorted guitar chords for the entire five minutes. I think you are beginning to get the picture. Because the instrumentation and improvisation is used sparse, the music is very spacious, often almost ambient in nature, perhaps as a result of influences from some avant-garde classical composers such as Penderecki. Yet, the atmosphere is always very tense, and songs don't always have detectable direction or musically resolved ending. Shub-Niggurath do not play music for casual listening and generally only for the experimentally-minded and those predisposed toward the avant-garde. -- Mike Taylor
Ile De Fievre (78)
Prototypical late '70s French trio with strong influence from
King Crimson. While not at all derivative,
they had a strong improvisational flair and a musical diversity that in
turn influenced many of the French progressives of today
Xaal, Tiemko all come
to mind immediately). The album to go for is Ile De Fievre, the
earlier one is not all that interesting.
I only know one release by this band and that is Ile de Fievre. This is a band with a latter day King Crimson influence. However that is not brought to the fore in the title track which is a 10-12 minute masterpiece of progressive that achieves a wonderful synthesis of guitar and keyboard comparable with the very best in symphonic progressive. That track alone makes this a disk worth getting. The disk drops off after this but is still well worth the attention (especially for those who enjoy King Crimson).
When I was first getting into the more obscure progressive rock groups, I got a copy of Ile De Fievre, Shylock's second and final album. The self-titled track on this album is virtually one of the greatest symphonic progressive songs ever made, and it made a really heavy impact on me. Much later, when Änglagård released Hybris, one of the first things that came to my mind was just how much parts of Hybris sound like Shylock. Yes theres a lot of King Crimson, a bit of Genesis (although not nearly as much as Änglagård have), but overall its very original with excellent guitar work by Frederic L'Epée (now in Philharmonie), over the top keyboards, and lighting drumming. The album certainly drops in its intensity after this 13 minute classic and there are some different explorations into fusion, King Crimson in the vein of Larks Tongues..., and a slow synth space out at the end. All in all its the opener that makes this album worth the purchase.
An incredible album, one of the best to come from France. There is a unique blending of styles on Ile de Fievre. Guitar is sometimes reminiscent of Steve Hackett while other times Robert Fripp is invoked. At times, there is a load of atmospheric Mellotron while other times the Frippian guitar creates its own intensity in concert with drums and bass. Other tracks vary across fusion, occasional funk, and more of the style of the title track, but in a weaker form. If only the remaining tracks were as excellent as Ile de Fievre this album would easily be one of the all-time classics. As it is, the album's worth owning for the title cut alone.
|Links||[See Philharmonie | Yang]|
Side Steps (90)
Side Steps 2 (91)
Against the Wave (92)
Steps on Edge (93)
Side Steps Live '96 (96)
Side Steps Live '97 (97)
Out and Out (98)
Points of View (01)
Steps on Edge (03, re-release on Musea)
Verge of Reality (05)
Side Steps - Atsunobu Tamura (electric guitar), Hiroaki Itoh (keyboards),
Koichi Iwai (bass) and Ichiro Fukawa (drums & electronic percussions)
Putting aside the presumably rough translation of this band's name, Side Steps is a quite competent and very traditional jazz fusion group. By "quite competent" I mean good players doing average music and by "very traditional" I mean a lot of Fender Rhodes piano, funky bass grooves, Latin excursions, and honey-sweet melodies close in feel to the early Di Meola records but with a rather soggy guitar on top. There are some good moments, like the rockers "Edge Trigger" and "Parallel Reality", but I would only recommend their Verge of Reality [Musea 2005] if you're a jazz-rock nut. Not to be confused with the American rock band Sidestep. -- David Marshall
Click here for Side Steps' web site
Click here to order albums from Out and Out through Verge of Reality from Musea Records
Madri Superiori (70)
Play it by ear(78)
Changing Shadow (84)
Australian Suite (99)
Perceptions of Infinity (01)
Suoni di Creso (02)
Though born in the USA (New York) in 1952, Anthony Sidney moved to Italy at the age of 16 after being accepted at the Conservatory of Florence to study classical guitar. He recorded 6 albums with Italian prog band Perigeo, with whom he played an average of 160 concerts a year. Since then, he has concentrated on classical guitar works, has performed throughout the world, and even written a textbook titled Scales and Studies for the Guitar. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Anthony Sidney's web site
Life Cycle (88)
A Sense of Change (91)
The Art Of Naviating By The Stars (05)
Playgrounds (08, Live)
Original entry, 7/31/02
German progressive metal act Sieges Even, over the course of five albums, created a unique hybrid of technical metal (often bordering on thrash), progressive rock, and complex jazz fusion. The bands first two albums, 1988's Life Cycle and 1990's Steps, feature intricate guitar riffs, rapid fire sledgehammer rhythms, and gruff vocals. Many comparisons were made early in their career with Watchtower, whose similar style made that band one of the more popular in the technical metal arena.
The band would change their sound, and vocalist, with 1991's A Sense of Change, a more melodic effort that drew its inspiration from 80's Rush. Guitarist Markus Steffen cleaned up his sound a bit, and relied more on melodic chords and solos. Brothers Oliver (bass) and Alex (drums) Holzwarth provided a rock solid foundation, and the band seemed ready to move into a new direction.
Once again, the band would make changes with 1995's Sophisticated, a move away from the Rush sound to a more metal/fusion sound. Somewhat similar to the earlier albums, Sophisticated features complex rhythms, angular shred guitar from new guitarist Wolfgank Zenk, and high pitched wailings from new singer Greg Keller. The non-stop twists and turns added a virtuoso element to this album, and the vocals of Keller, as well as some keyboards, gave the band a new found edge of commercialism, without sacrificing their instrumental brilliance.
1997 saw the release of Uneven, which followed similar paths, but the band eventually broke up. Following the demise of Sieges Even, the Holzwarth brothers and former guitarist Markus Steffen formed Looking Glass Self, initially with former Angra vocalist André Matos. This band hopes to continue on in the technical prog-metal style, while adding elements of melodic power-metal. The Holzwarth brothers also have played with popular bands such as Rhapsody, Blind Guardian, and Paradox [the German thrash/metal band, not the one in the GEPR - Ed]. -- Peter Pardo
Sieges Even 2005 line-up - Oliver Holzwarth, Arno Menses, Markus Steffen and Alex Holzwarth
As Peter mentions above, Sieges Even morphed into Looking Glass Self for a while. It was during this time that I heard about them and went onto their now-defunct web site, downloaded some work in progress, and wrote the Looking Glass Self entry. However, Looking Glass Self was to be only a brief pause in the Sieges Even story, and they never did release any albums under the LGS monicker.
André Matos was soon replaced by Arno Menses. Menses is Norweigian, and was a drummer and backing vocalist in another band with the unlikely name of Turd, and when he read on the Looking Glass Self web site that they were looking for a new vocalist, he sent in an audition tape and was surprised when the band accepted him and flew him to Germany to record with them. Together they recorded a demo released under the name Val'Paraiso named Footprints of Angels, which got a nice review at DPRP. At that point, they changed their name back to Sieges Even and were signed to the InsideOut label for whom they recorded two studio albums, The Art Of Navigating By The Stars (2005) and Paramount (2007). InsideOut released a live album called Playgrounds in 2008, after which the band broke up again for the final time (so far). -- Fred Trafton, with thanks to Frank Jäger
[See Blind Guardian |
Looking Glass Self]
to order Sieges Even's InsideOut releases
Sailin' With The Wind (8?)
Qualcosa si Crea Nulla si Distrugge (78), Iceman (79)
Agaetis Byrjun (00)
Englar Alheimsins (01, w/ Hilmar Orn Huilmarsson)
Believe me in a years time everyone interested in quality progressive rock music will know this band. They hail from Rekyavik, Iceland and create unbelievably beautiful soundscape of wintry desolation and melancholy. Their first two singles were big sellers in Britain where post-rock is fast becoming recognised as the youth counter-cultural choice in music. The track "Sven-g-englar" is undescribably beautiful; low, warm Hammond organs create a musical plateau over which spiritually harmonious guitars weep and wail like the mating calls of blue whales. Vocally the singer, reminds me of Dyong Yun's work with Popol Vuh. There is a feeling of deep mysticism to Sigur Rós' work. The 10 minute "Vidrar vel til loftrasa" reaches a crescendo so dizzying it's quite an experience just to listen to it. All lyrics are in Icelandic and the insrumentation is pretty standard with strings and many effects added later. The album is a double and features, on certain tracks, classical musicians from the Icelandic orchestra. At times they get quite experimental, with backwards guitars and other sundry items littering the album to create an intricate musical tapestry. As you might expect, the cinematic nature of Sigur Rós' muse, has led them to much soundtrack work for various avant-garde directors of the home country. Their second album with classical composer Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson in my mind surpasses the beauty of the first LP. Sigur Rós' music on this LP backs up Hilmar's more conventional orchestrations but the effect is truly beautiful. The LP is incredibly mellow, one track is Sigur Rós' arrangement of the tune that accompanies death announcements on Icelandic radio but they even turn this into some thing uplifting and powerful. The guitar sound like thunderous tectonic plates shifting on mass in time to the music. Comparisons would be futile. The nearest I can think of to Sigur Rós' aesthetic peak is Spirit Of Eden-era Talk Talk (a piece of genius in itself) If you love lush, semi orchestral experimental rock with melodies lifted straight from Haydn or Michael Nyman, all fed through a prog rock filter then you'll love the awesome Sigur Rós. I've not been moved as much by music since Popol Vuh's finest moments. It makes me weep to think music of this standard is STILL being made in the era of Britney Spears. Musical opium for the mind and soul. -- David Abel
|Links||Click here for Sigur Rós' web site|
Silver Apples (68), Contact (69)
Two guys from NYC who made two albums in the late 60's. Simeon (the simeon, actually a wall full of audio oscillators and signal generators with hand, foot, elbow and knee pedals to actuate them and Dan Taylor (drums) played a proto-electronic industrial rock that would later be refined when rediscovered by the likes of Kraftwerk and others in the '70s.
The psychedelic sixties produced many an odd band, but I'd be hard-pressed to find one odder than Silver Apples. A New York-based duo composed of drummer Danny Taylor and Simeon, who plays the Simeon. The Simeon is an assortment of cheap audio oscillators arranged so that they can be manipulated by the hands, elbows, knees and feet. I have their first album. It may be seen as the very first synth-pop album, but in a very psychedelic vein. Actually, "synth" might conjure up ideas of sophistication, which this assortment of blips and bleeps set to mesmerizing percussion and hippie-dippy vocalising (both members sing) sure ain't. The even rarer second album, Contact, added a banjo to the instrumentation! A historical curiosity, nothing more. -- Mike Ohman
The Inner Dragon (04)
Silver Lining - Pascal Indelicato (piano & keyboards), Michel Mourachko (bass),
Nicolas Mourachko (guitars), Michel Faure (drums, invisible in photo), Thierry
Sportouche (vocals and lyrics) and Annie Morel (violin).
Though Silver Lining has had songs on some compilation CD's, The Inner Dragon is their debut album release. If I needed to sum up this album in one phrase, I might say it's Rick Wakeman's Return to the Center of the Earth meets Utopia's "Singring and the Glass Guitar". But Thierry Sportouche's (editor of Acid Dragon prog magazine and former lyricist for Anoxie) narration is accented in French rather than Patrick Stewart's English accent.
The Inner Dragon is mostly long, repeated sections of proggy keyboard-heavy chord progressions over which the guitarist plays slow, languid solos. If you're looking for strange time signatures, dissonant chords or orgiastic note flurries, you'll need to look somewhere else. Aside from the piano introduction in "Fall", which is full of arpeggios, most of these songs are 4/4 symphonic rock anthems with some English folk or Celtic overtones (mostly due to the violin work). There are also solo opportunities for the violin and keyboards between (mostly spoken rather than sung) lyrics about a Sprite named Florrow who's fighting dragons ... though the lyrics are obscure enough that it's unclear whether these are real dragons or some sort of personal demons ("inner dragons").
Personally, this album doesn't speak to me very much. There's nothing directly wrong with it ... it's well recorded, well played and features good (if somewhat simple) chord progressions and nice soloing. There's just lots of other recent releases that I find to be more compelling, and since I need to listen to lots of albums in my capacity as GEPR editor, there's nothing here that will make me want to put The Inner Dragon on again in the near future rather than some other album. On the other hand, a lot of what I like will seem like so much noise to a lot of GEPR readers, and this album has a lot to recommend it to fans of more melodic, less intense prog.
But not the garden-gnome scene on the album cover (right). Blecch. -- Fred Trafton
I have been waiting for this album for a long time but here it is, I have got Silver
Lining's CD! The mini CD released 2 years ago and 2 concerts including a memorable
one in Lyon, in June 2002, had shown the creative potential and the originality of this
Lyon combo. I had discovered an original universe and a lyrical music and I waited for
this moment as soon as I had learned that they planned to record a complete CD.
The cover is nice and is far from the common drawings this musical genre popularized. The booklet is great too, it features all the lyrics of the "songs" (I don't like this word when speaking of progressive rock) written in English. The combo includes a singer-narrator who writes all the texts, of a keyboards player who practically composed all the music of the album, a bass player, a drummer, a guitar player and a violinist, a traditional progressive line up then except an extra (and what an extra!) the violin, which is not so common in this style, except famous references such as King Crimson, Caravan, Hawkwind, Kansas).
I put the record in my player and I am not disappointed. Very quickly the atmosphere emerges and you find the environment developed during the concerts: a guitar sometimes calm and cordial, sometimes aggressive, played in arpeggios or rhythm, a circling and majestic violin, a piano and synths in solo or accompaniment of the soloists, the whole rhythmed by a duet bass / drums accompanying perfectly all the nuances of this music.
The first two short tracks in which the piano, the narration (this is the story of Florrow (it is a concept album)), a guitar with a throbbing rhythm and a celestial violin come simultaneously, are the prelude to the first gem, a masterpiece, no less! I mean "Opaline".
What can I say about this song? Compared to the mini CD version, it has been polished and it now has got amplitude. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful epics I ever heard since I listen to music. The words are sad and deep and so is the music which accompanies them but it slowly raises towards other horizons. The guitar solos, with their Camel touch, are full of delicacy, the gorgeous violin that accompanies them, which enlace them, flies to the stratosphere. The other instruments are not silent either and the whole lot gives softness to the music, madness too (the changes of rhythms) orchestrated by irreproachable musicians for whom virtuosity is not an end in itself.
The following tracks (linked together) are at the same level, a great one. The sometimes rhythmic guitar with its throbbing sound (is this metal?), often plays melodic and brilliant solos, the violin flies away and illuminates the universe, the piano and synths are omnipresent too to blend the whole. You can select (but it's hard since all is good here) some outstanding songs: "The Inner Dragon" (almost as exceptional as "Opaline") where the piano is the master of the play, "Desert Gates" with its world music inspiration (the percussions, the Oriental vocals and the guitar parts as luminous as the sun in the desert), "Lovestagia" which makes think of a part of Camel's Moonmadness by the piano and the vocals sounding like a nursery rhyme and "Finale" which by its folk, jazzy and even funky touches, ends Florrow's quest.
At the end of the disc, the feeling of having heard something exceptional, reminds the same feelings I had had when listening to Ange's Au delà du délire and Yes' Relayer and more recently IQ's Subterannea and Arena's The Visitor.
In conclusion, this is a gorgeous, a brilliant disc. Among such records we would like to hear more often, showing great influences (is it necessary to quote some?): Hawkwind (for the violin solos and the texts recited (when Mr. Moorcock collaborated to the band)), Camel (for the guitar). But all that is quite difficult to analyze since the band found their own sound, according Christian Décamps' (Ange) own words. Astonishing for a first disc, even if it's not the members' first attempt.
Let's hope that the child will not remain single, that he will have a little brother. Let's hope those new silver lined angels will return one day on earth to display their divine music. We want more! -- Jean-Louis De La Cruz (translated from French by Thierry Sportouche)
Click here for Silver Lining's
The Shape of Rain (96)
The Seven Colours of Emptiness (07)
Original entry 8/11/00:
In addition to the bands Kai mentioned above, I should also mention that Simmonds has toured with Mastermind, in fact the photo of him above is playing with Mastermind. He also toured with Annie Haslam, formerly vocalist for Renaissance.
Simmonds' second solo album was released in 2007. Enigmatically entitled The Seven Colours of Emptiness, it's another concept album with many of the same attributes mentioned by Kai in the previous article. Strong symphonics (I would guess these are samplers and synths, though in many places they really sound like a symphony orchestra), a "gloomy and dark" subject (a guy dying in the hospital after a car accident ... which you get to feel for yourself in the shocking and sudden ending of the first cut ... which nearly made me swerve my car off the road when I first heard it while driving) and some parts that have a "new agey" feel to them. But don't take any of these comparisons as negatives. This is a cool album with a lot to recommend it, including strong compositions played expertly, good studio quality and even a nice Hammond solo or two. The vocals are merely OK, but they are few and far between anyway, so I have no problem with them. Besides, they highlight the meaningless drivel we say to comfort loved ones who are lying in bed in a coma. I could relate to this, since I've said similar junk to unconscious loved ones in my life.
Let's put it this way ... if this album is the soundtrack for someone's last hours on Earth as they're slipping away, I can only hope my personal soundtrack is half this good when my time comes. A strange recommendation, perhaps, but there it is. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Mickey Simmonds' web site,
which is really only a link to ...
Click here for Mickey Simmonds' MySpace page
Paradise Square (02)
Simon Says 2002 - Mattias Jarlhed (percussion), Jonas Hallberg (guitars), Daniel
Fäldt (vocals, sitar) and Stefan Renström (bass, keyboards)
This band plays symphonic progressive rock. Imagine something sounding like Chris Squire on bass, Steve Hackett or David Gilmour on guitar and Gordon Haskell on vocals, with very much Mellotrons, UK harmonies, Genesis arrangements, and a bit of rap. The man behind all this is Stefan Renström, also known as the bass player of The Moor and of Egg [Sweden]. -- Gunnar Creutz
Original entry, last updated 9/17/03:
The first thing to say is that this band has absolutely nothing to do with the U.S. alternative/grunge band of the same name. The Swedish progressive Simon Says started out as a "project band" of The Moor bassist Stefan Renström, who had purchased several synthesizers and written lots of progressive rock tunes, quite different from the sort of music The Moor would be interested in. Renström wanted to make a CD of this music, and The Moor's keyboardist, Kenneth Magnusson agreed to produce the album. Renström assembled a group of musicians for the project, an album he named Ceinwen. This included singer Daniel Fäldt, whose passionate vocals were just what Renström needed to bring his lyrics to life.
Ceinwen seems to be a music Goddess (or perhaps an alternate name for Euterpe, the Greek Muse of Music?), and the album is dedicated to Her. The music ranges from Genesis-like symphonic prog ("Under the Seal") to synthesized electronica ("Devonian Forest") with bits and pieces that remind of everything from Yes to King Crimson with occasional flashbacks to the acid space rock of Hawkwind. Overall an excellent but uneven album, with the only real gripe being that many of the songs sound as if they were mixed by Chris Squire (i.e. the bass is mixed at an unnecessarily overwhelming volume). The bass work is all excellent, but I would have noticed it even if it hadn't stomped all over the keyboards or guitar on many songs. Renström himself says he thinks that this album would be much better if it was remixed (though I'm not sure if he was referring to the bass volume), and this may happen in the future. With Ceinwen basically out of print now, and interest in Simon Says increased due to their 2002 release Paradise Square, I wouldn't be surprised to see a remixed version of their debut being released at some time in the future.
There were several attempts to create a performing version of the band with different members, but none of the line-ups ever really gelled, playing only a few free gigs before disbanding. In the meantime, Renström worked on other projects, but continued writing music in the vein of Ceinwen. When he realized that he had enough for another CD, he decided to try again to reassemble Simon Says, though this time he produced the album himself. To make a long story short, vocalist Daniel Fäldt was asked to return, and Renström filled out the line-up with Valinor's Tree drummer Mattias Jarlhed and guitarist Jonas Hallberg. This group turned out to have excellent chemistry together, which is evident in what Renström calls "the first true band album of Simon Says", Paradise Square. Even Kenneth Magnusson had to say, "Paradise Square delivers what Ceinwen promises." A masterful summary of the relationship between the albums.
Paradise Square was released on the Galileo Records label in 2002, and is an incredible masterpiece of symphonic prog, rivalled only by greats like Genesis, whose sound is emulated frequently on this release. There are sections that might really be off of a Foxtrot-era Genesis album with attack-suppressed guitars wailing over a backdrop of Mellotron chords and thundering bass pedal (or their modern-day equivalents; the Mellotron is sampled on this album, and the "bass pedal" is probably a monophonic synth being played with fingers instead of feet ... but who cares?) But then, the music will take off to unexplored regions, just to prove that Simon Says is not a Genesis knock-off band. This album also has occasional reminiscences of Jethro Tull, particularly in the organ work, use of acoustic guitars and the lyrical subject matter, which covers some of the same ground as A Passion Play.
Paradise Square also has outbursts of crazed calliope music, sitar solos and a capella vocal parts; it never gets boring. To my mind it's the best concept album to be released in recent memory, and I would have to name Paradise Square essential for any symphonic prog fan ... easily the best of 2002 so far. Trust me, you'll forgive the Genesis similarities immediately, and even come to love this aspect of the album. If I had to make a complaint, it would only be that I wish for more of Daniel's sitar playing. I might also wish for more vocal harmonies (the ones that are there are so interesting, I want more!), but this might make these pieces difficult to pull off live. It's hard for me to find any negatives to this album.
I was appalled to discover that this amazing band didn't even have a web site (Renström calls himself "kind of a digital disaster on two legs", so he hadn't created one for himself ... this also explains his penchant for analog synthesizers), so I did something I've never done before ... I offered to create one for them on the Gibraltar Encyclopedia web site. Stefan Renström and I have had many great e-mail conversations since then as he's sent me photos, reviews and text for the web site, and I remain a huge fan of the band.
Their most recent release is a piece on the 3-CD Musea/Colossus Kalevala project, in which a number of prog bands musically illustrate the Finnish national epic. Their piece is excellent, and you can hear Daniel singing in Swedish on it! Look on their web site for some photos of the recording sessions.
They're in the studio now recording their next CD. Although Daniel Fäldt has decided to move to Berlin, he recorded the vocal tracks already, so this recording at least will still feature his vocals. Renström has said he can't imagine a Simon Says without Daniel, but time will tell whether he returns to Sweden from time to time in order to make a new album. In the meantime, Simon Says has added keyboardist/trumpeter Magnus Paulsson to the line-up, and his contributions will also be appearing on the new album. -- Fred Trafton
In the meantime, I've been fired as their webmaster. No, I'm still a friend of the band, but Renström has now acquired a domain for the band and wants to take a more active role in the web site design (see link below for the new site). Theoretically, he'll be keeping everyone up to date with the latest news on the new album.
In the intervening years, Simon Says wasn't completely inactive. In fact, they contributed a 20+-minute opus for another Colossus/Musea project album, Odyssey: The Greatest Tale. This multi-part epic is entitled "The Minds of Mortal Men (Meander Tales)", and is another great piece of music that deserves the attention of anyone who likes symphonic prog. -- Fred Trafton
OK, Simon Says hasn't been totally asleep, having contributed to a couple of project albums in the interim, and some pretty good stuff too. But Tardigrade has been on ice so long that the comparison seems appropriate. Yes, Tardigrade is the album I heard rough mixes of five years ago. So is the released album really that much better? Well, uh, actually, yes it is. Maybe not five years worth, but the released version is indeed a vast improvement over the rough mixes. Many new sections, loads of symphonic sweetening, real instruments substituted for synth parts (particularly the bass), vocal processing in some spots, chorales, giant string sections, brass choirs and thundering Hammond organs ... oh, yeah, everything over-the-top bombastic symphonic prog needs. And yet the songs are all still completely recognizable, just more "finished" sounding. And those lyrics ... these will keep your prog-listening friends up discussing meanings for months to come. Truly great stuff!
There's still plenty of Genesis vibe in this album, just as in Paradise Square. For those who would bemoan such a thing as "derivative", I give them a big razz-berry. This is better Genesis than Genesis, and with lots of other stylings merged with it in case you get tired of the Genesis sound. Tardigrade is simply one of the best prog albums I've ever heard, it really makes me feel like it's the '70's again.
Tardigrade (the album) is quite a bit "busier" than previous efforts, in a Gentle Giant sort of way, particularly noticable in "Tardigrade" (the song). There's some really nice vocal overdubs in "The Chosen One", and electronic wierdness in several places. There's a paraphrase of Holst's "Mars" movement from The Planets which actually recurs a couple of times in the album. There's Vocoder vocals ... when't the last time you heard that? (The '70's, right?). The version of "As The River Runs" on this album is a major reworking of the song (of the same name) they recorded for the Kalevala project, with some added sections and the lyrics re-done in English. But every song is excellent, and any fan of symphonic '70's prog really needs to have this album in their collection. It stands well alongside most Yes, Genesis or ELP albums ... even the ones from their '70's heydays. Essential!
In other news, Simon Says has finished another piece which Stefan called "really satisfying" for the next Colossus/Musea project album, which will be called Inferno. They've also agreed to do pieces for a Finnish prog tribute CD doing an interpretation of "For Her Son", a song from Scarab (the precursor band to Ageness) and another Colossus/Musea project album Inferno 2. The Tardigrade has awakened after its long slumber and is now busier than ever. In March, the've gotten together again for rehearsals in preparation for a tour ... probably only Europe, though Stefan says he would love to come to the USA if he can work it out. Magnus Paulsson is no longer with the band, but has been replaced by ex-Valinor's Tree keyman John Lönnmyr. -- Fred Trafton
[See Egg (Sweden) |
Moor, The |
|This is a very sought-after album by Enrico Simonetti, father of Claudio Simonetti of Goblin, and just like Goblin, this is a soundtrack of a four part sci-fi TV series titled Gamma. Enrico was a well know pianist in Italy playing different stiles of music through his career, and as far as I know this is his first incursion into progressive music, he recorded this album with the help of Goblin, and contrary to some of the albums of Goblin this is a more lighter and highly melodic music that runs through prog classical and jazz, and only two of the twelve tracks contain vocals. The title track of the album reached number one on the charts ended eleven week dominance of the theme from "Profondo Rosso" so in this particular occasion the father showed the son how to make a very enjoyable soundtrack album. It's worth listening to. -- Julio Lopez|
Da Tremila Anni (72), Per Proteggere L'Enorme Maria (72), E La Mia Mente (73)
Man Over Moon (78)
Caravan of Dreams (91), R.S.V.P. (94?)
Bassist/singer for many a UK band, including Hatfield and the North, Camel, and Caravan. Has a really pleasant voice that can make you sing along to the tritest of lyrics. How does he do it without dying laughing? Sinclair is a fine bassist, as well. Caravan of Dreams is said to be very good.
Caravan of Dreams, by the Caravan frontman, also features Dave Sinclair, who left Caravan in 1975, on keyboards, and also ex-Camel drummer Andy Ward. The music is very much in the style of early Caravan, with jazz-inflected compositions, and Sinclair's distinctive vocals. The CD also includes some live pieces from the band's first concert in mid-1991, which run together as the last few tracks on the CD.
I've only heard some of his stuff with Camel and Hatfield and the North; he was with Caravan and is now involved in a project called Caravan of Dreams with Andy Ward (ex-Camel). Sinclair's voice is great. Very even with a strong English accent, and easy to listen to.
Caravan of Dreams consists of Richard along with long-time Canterbury flautist Jimmy Hastings and ex-Camel drummer Andy Ward. This 60 minute CD features eight new songs followed by four recent live recordings of Caravan of Dreams covering old Caravan tracks. I was at the edge of my seat when listening to this for the first time. After all, we know how reunions usually go. I'd heard great things about this CD and read positive reviews. In all honesty it didn't live up to my expectations, but I'm happy to report that it's not an attempt at commercial success nor a sell out on any level. The music picks up where Caravan left off, but with a jazzier style. Gone are the side long tracks and extended jams, but the distinct Sinclair vocal style and playing remains. Richard hasn't lost a chop in 20 years, though his writing is less ambitious than it was back then. The songs are all under eight minutes, catchy, and not as complicated as one would expect. Caravan fans will most likely find this a suitable and welcome offer. But for one looking to get into the band, I suggest starting with the earlier material. While this is one of the best reunions yet, it could have been much better.
[See Camel | Caravan | Hatfield and the North]
Recently rereleased was this British prog/folk rarity, originally on the tiny Medway label and commanding ultra-high prices. The music is an original mix of British folk and prog rock that sounds similar to some Jethro Tull, Fruupp and others. Their biggest innovation was the inclusion of a member on glockenspiel and oscillators! No keyboards, but the interplay between the two guitars (acoustic and electric) and the odd use of recorder more than make up for it. Good stuff. -- Mike Ohman
Still (73), Stillusion (93)
Lineup includes host of early King Crimson folk. Worth having. I think he only has this one solo album.
Best known as lyricist for King Crimson and ELP.
[Stillusion is a reissue of Still with additional tracks from a planned second LP that was never completed.]
The Eve Of Innocence (92)
Sinister Street (Trust line-up) - (not in photo order) Erik Van der Viis
(keyboards), Frits Bonjemoor (drums), Olaf Blaauw (vocals), Omar Niamut (guitars),
Peter van Leerdam (keyboards), Roger Vingerhoeds (bass)
New neo-prog band from holland with an excellent vocalist. They assimmilate the styles and ideas of bands like Menel-period IQ, Egdon Heath, Saga, the "M" band, Chandelier, and others in that general style, although they don't seem to actually steal any licks per se. Any big fans of the aforementioned bands should enjoy Sinister Street a lot.
|Neo-progressive rock, very much in the Marillion/Aragon camp.|
|Sinister Street show clear influence of Marillion, Pendragon and even Rush, though they don't copy anything directly from any of these. The songs on The Eve of Innocence are full of strong, bright melodies, and vocalist Olaf Blaauw has a warm, full-bodied voice; these two are what the songs are built on. In contrast, the instrumental parts are very light and streamlined, and any solos or instrumental sections kept to minimum. The guitar parts are often rudimentary and though there are two full-time keyboard players, the keyboard parts rarely venture beyond the basics in either complexity or lushness. So all in all, very light even on the neo-prog scale, though has some memorable songs like "A Provisional Anthem". Probably much more enjoyable if you approach it as just a melodic pop/rock album. -- Kai Karmanheimo|
An intervening ten years and the replacement of half the band's personnel didn't really
change the description of Trust, Sinister Street's 2002 release on Musea, from
Kai's description above. Well, for the most part. The influence of neo-proggers like
Marillion and Pendragon
is still evident in their music, as are the more metallic stylings of
Rush, though one would never call Sinister Street "prog-metal"
in a Dream Theater sense. However, Trust does
feature some nice instrumental sections and is quite lush in its orchestration (they do
have two keyboardists!), though "complexity" is not the first word that pops into
my head to describe the orchestration. "Thick" and "lush" are better words. Don't let the
silly "Manny, Moe and Jack" flying avatars on their web site lead you to believe this
band has anything "cute" about them. The music and lyrics range from melancholy to
downright sombre, with orchestrations to match.
Trust is full of pretty nice stuff, really, but haters of "neo-prog" will find them to be just another band to dismiss ... anybody who has opened for Marillion and Jadis on tour and been the band for Fish must be ignorable, right? Well, ignoring Sinister Street would be a shame, since the production, composition and quality of this album is a cut above many other so-called "neo-prog" bands. A very nice symphonic, melodic prog release that won't clear a room of "non-proggers" in under thirty seconds. Did I just say "accessable"? Yes, I did. But recommended in spite of that. Still, there is a lot of truth to Kai's assessment of their first album, "Probably much more enjoyable if you approach it as just a melodic pop/rock album." Yes. Don't expect anything extraordinarily "prog" and you won't be disappointed. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Sinister Street's
web site, another site that works well in Internet Explorer and not very well in
Click here to order Trust from Musea Records
Aurum Nostrum (97)
Live at Progfest '97 (98)
Sinkadus are a Swedish band who follow in the footsteps of their compatriots
Änglagård. Aurum Nostrum has lot in common with Änglagård's
Hybris: four long tracks, similar melancholy mood, the influence of
Swedish folk music and lots of Mellotron and flute (plus a dose of cello).
Somewhat more accessible, though, and not quite as dynamic or repetitive.
Very good production, playing and compositions throughout. Vocal sections
are brief but have real vocal melodies instead of being just added as an
afterthought. All in all, an hour of solid progressive rock. The album is
available on Cyclops (CYCL-048).
Cirkus (Cyclops CYCL-072) shows nice progress: sturdier sound, a little more angular on the melodies and gothic on the atmosphere, a bit more rocking touch and a bit more originality. "Kakafonia" and "Ulv i fårakläder" both end with towering instrumental build-ups that hover at the edge of chaos, and are far the grandest moments on the album. Unfortunately, the band can take a lot of time getting there, as they also seem more prone to repetition here than on their debut, with themes that don't always justify such treatment. On the other hand, the best instrumental parts, especially many on the flute, shine brightly against otherwise sometimes monochromatic musical background. Not an unqualified success, but still a nicely atmospheric symphonic album, which is unfortunately hampered by the ghost of a certain other band. -- Kai Karmanheimo
|What does "Sinkadus" mean? According to their interview in Progression magazine (#34) by John "Bo Bo" Bollenberg, it can have one of two meanings. In a Swedish dialect, it can mean "giving someone a box on the ear, but more in the sense of 'pay attention'". The second definition comes from a Swedish board game similar to Backgammon. When someone throws a five and a two on a roll of the dice, they shout "sink a dus", which means "five and two". So who says it has to mean something profound? -- Fred Trafton|
|Links||Click here for the Sinkadus web site|
Grupo Sintesis (77)
En Busca de una Nueva Flor (78)
Aquí Estamos (81)
Hilo Directo (84)
El Hombre Extraño (89)
Ancestros II (92)
En los Límites del Barrio (94)
Yoruba Celebration (00)
Habana a Flor De Piel (01)
|An interesting band originating from Cuba (I think). Fans of South American Progressive Rock will undoubtedly find much of interest here. Unfortunately the LP (on Discos NCL) is an extremely bad pressing so sound quality is almost bootleg standard (albeit a GOOD bootleg). Getting past the sound quality, there is some ambitious, nicely textured symphonic prog. An acoustic approach dominates overall, with some very basic synth sounds making an interesting accompaniment. This synth tone, like early Klaus Schulze, never really changes throughout and is out of place on other tracks. (However access to top notch equipment was rare in seventies South America so Grupo Sintesis should not be blamed on this point.) The guitar playing is faultless however, and although the lyrics are in Spanish they are well sung, especially the female vocals that sing high-pitched wordless melodies on some songs. "Nueve Ejemplares" opens the album, a 10-11 min track that takes in Early Genesis and Pink Floyd. Yes, ELP, Floyd and Jethro Tull are all mentioned on the sleeve as influences and are possible to discern quite clearly. The band do add elements of their own though and En Busca De Una Nueva Flor is an interesting addition to a prog fan's library. Structured, folk-influenced symphonic rock. A great sunday morning album and a definite grower -- David Abel|
Click here for a Sintesis web site
Click here for more info
Running To Paradise (82), The Three Bushes (84)
Enchanting keyboard-based symphonic prog. Led by singer Stefan Neubauer, whose flamboyant, Liberace-like piano playing is oddly apropos for this type of music. He has a high-pitched tenor which, while not exceptional, is very easy on the ear; it's the perfect vehicle to carry along the bouncy, likable melodies. Organist/string-synthesist/harpsichordist Stefan Papsthorst adds additional colour to Neubauer's piano and synths. There's some good, clear guitar solos here and there by Martin Vogel, who doubles on bass. Might be compared to other European symphonic bands like early Flame Dream, England or Dragonfly. Both albums are of the highest quality: Running To Paradise featuring guests on strings and flute, The Three Bushes on sax and percussion. Also, Neubauer contributes some most un-Indian-sounding sitar to The Three Bushes. While one would think the instrument would sound quite incongruous in a symphonic context, it sounds like it has always belonged. -- MIke Ohman
[See Mr. Sirius. Precursor to that band.]
Il Viaggio Senza Andata (69-71, released 91)
[See Celeste | Museo Rosenbach]
Lungo Il Sentiero Di Pietra (89)
Spettacolo Annullato (92)
Folla di Passaggio (94, Live)
Hotel Brun (98)
Sithonia in concert
This Italian band has every prog ingredient that's available, combining proper time signatures with occasional hooks. Spettacolo annulatto is their second disc. Two keyboard players, with the guitarist also playing keys, should make this band very keyboard-oriented. But they don't come through as from the mold of ELP or Il Balletto di Bronzo. Rather, the keyboards are used for developing melodic lines that intertwine, giving dynamics going from a somewhat melodic contrapuntal approach to a symphonic styling. Vocals are in Italian and depicts what seems to be dialogues forming a story. The opening piece, "La recita del silenzio", clocking at 22:15 sets the mood with its atmospheres ranging from tranquil to down-to-earth prog fare. The accent is on developing melodies, be them instrumental or vocal, and the band never indulges in too long passages, preffering to expand on musical ideas, making for a recommended album of '90s Italian progressive. -- Alain Lachapelle
|This band shows the usual lineup of double-keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and an excellent voice. Spettacolo Annullato is also typical with a variety of arrangements (soft and heavier) often inspired by classical music. The vocals (in Italian), guitar and keyboards share the progression of the melodies thru many episodes with different rhythms. The sound shifts easily from baroque, jazzy or rock ambiences but usually favours electric instruments. Some fresh music with influences that certainly include some from Italian bands from the '70s. Confine still relies on rich and varied arrangements but the band often returns to a rock sound where the electric guitar and keyboards play an important part. The compositions and melodies remain Italian but the sound seems to become more electric, more accessible to British or American listeners. -- Paul Charbonneau|
Sithonia's live album [Folla di Passaggio], released in 1994, while it doesn't show
a terrific sound quality, is a very fair sample of their great ability for performances. A
couple of tracks are introduced here, which will later appear in studio versions in their
follow-up, Confine. The fact is that Sithonia are a highly melodic song-oriented
symphonic band, so it is no surprise that Confine consists of a bunch of
song-structured tracks, some are longer, some are shorter, but all of them equally written
and arranged under a song format. It is not implied, though, that their style or compositions
have turned simpler or "poppier": on the contrary, this band knows how to instill rich and/or
colorful textures, well-crafted guitar and key solos and/or a busy rhythm section work in
each and every song of their repertoire. Their good taste at writing inspired melodies and
elegant arrangements may remind the listener of
Banco's Come In Un'Ultima Cena and
Corte dei Miracoli. In fact, the 22-minute
suite that opened their second CD (Spettacolo ...) could be described as a
well-crafted ensemble of many different songs, more than an extension on a few basic
musical ideas (for instance, Yes's "Close To The Edge").
For their fourth studio effort, Hotel Brun, Sauro Musi has replaced Roberto Magni on the guitarist's position, but things are "business as usual"; that is, the tracks show all the virtues of Italian symphonic tradition, assimilated by Sithonia. After the initial five tracks, which display a sense of romanticism more intense than on their previous recordings, we find the namesake suite - another well-written and well-arranged series of distinct songs. After this one, the tender ballad in waltz tempo entitled "Risvegli" serves as a beautiful closing. Generally speaking, Sithonia's career has proved to be one of the most interesting in the contemporary Italian progressive scene, with their first two studio works moving towards a more open sense of passion, while the last two set a calmer trend. -- Cesar Mendoza
Click here for a small
Sithonia page on the Mellow Records web site
Trip Away (71)
Note: Polish accented letters changed to their nearest English equivalent
Wszystko mi mowi, ze mnie kto pokochal (68)
Cala jestes w skowronkach (69)
Od wschodu do zachodu slonca (70)
Wszystkim zakochanym (72)
Krywan, Krywan (72)
Szanujmy wspomnienia (76)
Stworzenia swiata czesc druga (76)
Rezerwat milosci (79)
Droga ludzi (80)
Nie domykajmy drzwi (89)
|Good 70's Polish progressives.|
|Late 60's work in psych vein.|
Skaldowie (their name translates to "The Skalds", as in the Nordic
bards) were a hugely popular group in Poland who had both cult and
mainstream appeal and managed to straddle different styles of music in
their rather long career. Started in 1965 by the Zielinski brothers,
they earned their fame on the Polish festival circuit and throughout the
late 60s released several beat/pop/psych records that met with great
success. The band apparently did a tour of the USA and Canada in 1969
and shortly thereafter began introducting more "rock" elements into
their sound, with a hinting of a proto-prog psych sound on their 1970 LP
Od wschodu do zachodu slonca ("From sunrise to sunset").
In 1972, they released two albums, the second of which was what many consider the high point of their career, Krywan, Krywan - an album which enjoyed a cult following in the annals of Polish progressive rock. Side one was a sidelong suite, a mix of traditional folk music, psych and symphonic prog, all based on the lyrics of a traditional Polish highlander song about the Krywan, a tall peak in the Polish Tatra mountains. The track features their trademark vocal harmonies and some great organ and violin interplay, as well as a fairly strong psych feel, and long classical interludes reminiscent of The Nice. Side 2 was composed of more conventional, shorter songs, but all were very well done. At times they have a rather funky fuzz psych groove happening on some of the tracks.
Their other really progressive album was the 1976 Stworzenia swiata, czesc druga. Again, the LP starts off with a 19 minute symphonic suite, which has both more conventionally progressive moments than Krywan, Krywan and some really nice exended violin soloing, but also has some pretty schmaltzy sections typical of sympho-prog of the time. They are using some synths here as well (analog) and the group harmony vocals that start the suite are incredible, again straddling prog rock and folkloric realms, both beautiful and evocative. Unfortunately, side two is nowhere near this good and features rather schmaltzy ballads. The band did write some great ballad/pop music in their time, but this is not it. Overall, a frustratingly uneven album; some moments on it are simply brilliant but exist concurrently with the weaker ones. The last track redeems side 2 with some nice conga-driven fuzz psych/prog. This LP and Krywan, Krywan are available as an inexpensive 2-on-1 CD reissue in a digipack that reproduces the LP sleeves, and is a recommended purchase for psych/prog fans who wish to check out a great Polish band -- if you can find it outside of Poland. Since their other albums are heavily reliant on the Polish lyrics and not particularly "progressive", this is probably also where most people's exploration of this group will end. -- Piotr Dubiel
Skeem - Serge Barbaro (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Bertrand Hulin-Bertaud (bass)
and Emma M (drums). Not pictured: Berny Barbaro and Fabrice Rives (keyboards),
Cathy Lully Croux and Sabrina Bendjema (background vocals)
Those of you who have read many of my reviews know that one of my pet peeves is the concept of "neo-prog". Just what is it? Where does one draw the line between "neo" and "real" progressive rock? I've heard a lot of bands described as "neo" that I thought were excellent and complex, while others I thought were really pretty simple hailed as the next new thing in prog.
Well, I have no problem with categorizing Skeem as neo-prog. Firstly, they call themselves that, or at least their label Musea does. Secondly, their music fits my preconcieved notions about what that term is supposed to mean. Namely, it is thick, heavily symphonic and keyboard oriented, and also song oriented. The songs are a bit on the long side for radio airplay, though the length doesn't cause them to have much more "meat" to their content. Bands that I would compare them to include Marillion (isn't that the definition of "neo-prog", especially their earliest efforts?), or also Final Conflict or even Grey Lady Down. But really, their sound is probably even closer to '80's pomp/arena rockers who got a lot of radio airplay, such as Duran Duran or Styx, though perhaps with more string ensemble (as in keyboards) than either of them. Serge Barbaro's vocals especially keep reminding me of Duran Duran's Simon LeBon. This music is over-produced (I mean that in a good way), well recorded and slick, with English lyrics, but consists mostly of rock anthems that make you want to wave your fist in the air along with the music, but doesn't offer much to fill the space between your ears. They do sometimes enguage in 7/8 timing and a few other progressive touches, but they never lose that arena anthem feel.
Bottom line: a nice album, but not really essential. You could just as easily put on some Styx and wave your fist in the air instead. For those of you who keep track of such things, Skeem's rhythm section is the same as Priam's, namely Emma M. (drums) and Bertrand Hulin-Bertaud (bass). -- Fred Trafton
Learn to Talk (84)
The Country of the Blind (86)
Warsaw Concert (??)
Front Rock 1 (??, Cassette w/ Polish band Reportaz)
|Fred Frith and someone else. One of Frith's worst projects.|
|Another Fred Frith related band. Only heard one song so I'll reserve judgement, although I like it. Featuring Zeena Perkins (harp) and Tom Cora (cello).|
|A couple of very fine albums from Fred Frith and Tom Cora, with the addition of Zeena Parkins on The Country of the Blind. The musicians perform on a number of acoustic and electric and homemade instruments, to create an amazing sound for just two or three people. (And it's not just overdubbing, because I saw the duo live, and they sounded like a much larger band as each played on one or two instruments simultaneously with their hands as well as kick drums with their feet). The sound is slightly less experimental than, say, Frith's Technology of Tears, but certainly up there with most of his material. Twisted political rock sung in Frith's ragged voice, bits of ethnic folk music, and occasional abstract noise. Though the albums contain songs (which are often segued into each other), it's still very much improvisational music. Learn to Talk interjects a lot of media sound bites (like Reagan saying "We're still free in America") and relies slightly more on electronics, whereas Country of the Blind has a richer sound due to Parkins' organ and electric harp, but both are highly recommended (by me at least). -- Rolf Semprebon|
|The band consisted of Fred Frith (guitar, violin, percussion, bass, keyboards) and Tom Cora (Cello, guitar, bass, percussion). For their second release they were joined by Zeena Parkins (electric harp, organ). The music is similar to Frith's early 8ties solo works, Henry Cow or Art Bears music. The addition of Cora's cello helped a lot to give a new blend to the typical Frith-RIO-sound. The combination of these two musical maniacs is probably the best project Frith was participating in the 8ties, and is therefore highly recommended to those interested in Frith's music, also because both LPs were reissued by RecRec on one CD. -- Achim Breiling|
|Links||[See Frith, Fred]|
Skryvania (77), Tristan (78)
Rare, but excellent example of early '70s French progressive rock replete with slabs of the dated Mellotron sound, proficient guitar. Their only release was self-titled, and the LP is a collector's item demanding large amounts of money. They have a couple of covers of Genesis and Yes songs on that one.
Their first is thought to be the rarest French symphonic progressive album.
Ojciec chrzestny Dominika (81)
Podroz W Kraine Wyobrozny (84)
|Sounds like SBB with much more vocals. Only for huge SBB fans. Podroz contains electronic music from a concert.|
|Skrzek is the leader of SBB, but here [Ojciec chrzestny Dominika] he is truly solo, playing everything from drums to myriad of keyboard and string instruments. The two long suites that make up Ojciec chrzestny Dominika (LP Muza SX 1967; CD Golland 101) marshal the full range of his musical influences, including bluesy vocal meditations, spacey synthesizer painting, quasi-classical keyboard developments and touches of jazz and East European folk melodies. However, the main artillery is provided by barrages of truly soaring melodies, amplified into ground-shattering detonations by a lavishly deployed symphonic palette of guitars, keyboards and Skrezk's distinct vocals. The music can get as bombastic as the worst of ELP at times, but the sheer splendour of the melodies and the ever-evolving arrangements stemming from Skrzek's passionate and superbly imaginative playing keep it confidently afloat where ELP ingloriously capsized. Not having other virtuoso players to jam with naturally helps make it more vocal-oriented than most SBB albums, but Ojciec chrzestny Dominika is all the better because of it. In fact, along with Exodus' The Most Beautiful Day, this is probably the best symphonic progressive rock album ever made in Poland. -- Kai Karmanheimo|
|Links||[See Niemen, Czeslaw | SBB]|
Sky (79), Sky II (80), Sky 3 (81), Forthcoming (82), Five Live (83), Cadmium (84), The Great Baloon Race (86), The Mozart Album (90)
The original lineup included classical guitarist John Williams and ex-Curved Air keyboardist Francis Monkman, with Kevin Peek, Herbie Flowers and Tristan Fry. The early albums blend elements of classical, light pop, jazz and rock, but the sound (mostly due to Williams' classical guitars) was really unique, sometimes full of fire, sometimes very restrained. By the fourth album both Monkman and Williams had walked, Monkman being replaced by Steve Gray, and their sound began to lose the edge. New songs, with a few exceptions, sounded like retreads of old ones. Five Live is a very respectable live set recorded in Australia, but after that the band went downhill fast. Several compilation albumss are out, any of these would be a good starting point for newbies, but their best album is clearly the first.
Sky was a group formed by John Williams, a British classical guitarist, whose approach involved combining the classical music form with the energy of rock. After a string of successful albums, they embarked on The Mozart Album, a collaboration with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, to interpret a variety of Mozart compositions. This release had a short-lived existence on CD in Japan, entitled Sky Meets Sir Neville Marriner, and is now, for all practical purposes, available only on vinyl. In general, it is fashionable for purists (and those who aspire to purism) to criticize such efforts. However, taken on its own merits, as a display of instrumental prowess and composition, this effort is quite decent, more so for those who enjoy such adaptations, also a staple of bands such as Ekseption, Los Canarios, etc. The Best of Sky compilation offers a good introduction to the style of the band, and contains some of their best tracks, including "Carillon," "Vivaldi" (also covered by Curved Air), and "Dies Irae." The group is powered by the keyboard prowess of Francis Monkman and the guitar-work of John Williams, to realise a range of moods, from the energetic to the pastoral.
Excavations of the Mind (10)
Sky Architect - (not in photo order) Tom Luchies (vocals), Wabe Wieringa (strings),
Rik van Honk (keyboards), Guus van Mierlo (bass) and Christiaan Bruin (drums)
If I had any doubt that Sky Architect were fans of The Flower Kings after hearing this album, this web page would be pretty convincing proof. However, though I could easily say, "If you like The Flower Kings, you'll like Sky Architect", these youngsters from Sweden remind me of other bands as well. They remind me frequently of Overhead and Qoph for their combination of '70's Beatles-like psychedelia but with "proggier" overtones than the Fab 4 ever really tried for. So, I've now compared them to 3 other bands ... two of them are also Swedish and one is Finnish. Am I implying here that there's some sort of "Scandanavian psych sound" that all these bands espouse? Well, I wouldn't have thought so before writing this liittle article, but maybe there is.
But in spite of the above comparisons, Sky Architect has a very fresh and appealing sound if you like this sort of thing ... which I must, since Excavations of the Mind has been on my player way too much in the past few weeks. It appears to be something of a concept album, though beyond dealing with "friendly paranoia" and "walls of eyes" (or is it "walls of ice"? ... the slight Dutch accent in the English lyrics makes this debatable), I'm not really sure what it's about. Something about insanity? Well, whatever these guys are excavating in their minds, I hope they haven't mined out this vein of musical ideas ... because I'm really hoping to hear more from these guys. Excellent debut album! Available for download from Mindawn (see and links above) or on hard media from Galileo Records or Progrock Records (see links below), who both have distribution rights.
Click here for Sky Architect's web site
Click here for Sky Architect's MySpace page
Click here to order CD from Galileo Records
Click here to order CD from Progrock Records
Postmodern Game (04)
The Skys - (not in photo order) Jonas Ciurlionis (vocals and lead guitar), Aleksandr
Liutvinskij (rhythm guitar), Justinas Tamasevicius (bass), Tadas Mekionis (keyboards) and
Cyrill Scherbak (drums)
A rock band from Lithuania, The Skys was established in 1995 by a group of enthusiasts headed by Jonas Ciurlionis (guitar, vocals, songwriter). Though the sound was definitely prog-oriented rock with instances of improvisation and complicated arrangemets, the band's songs soon became popular in their own country and climbed the charts of local radio stations (in 1996 song "One Saturday of The Spring" reached radio station Laisvoji banga charts where it kept its highest positions for almost two months).
The band's first release, Civilized (1997), a conceptual album with a hint of Pink Floyd influence, arranged as a continuous flow of compositions with philosophical lyrics and intriguing noise sounds, provided with a beautiful 8-page inlay booklet, is undoubtedly a noticeable event on Lithuania's (and not only Lithuania's) prog scene. Later, in 2001 The Skys made a musical theatre performance based on Civilized which was presented in Jaunimo Theatre in Vilnius.
The second short album, Dreams (1999) marked another step towards forming a unigue style of the band which could no longer be traced to similarities with Pink Floyd, The Doors, ELP, King Crimson or others. These efforts, after years of work and some particular changes in the lineup, resulted in the band's third album, Postmodern Game (2004), with a simple and mature sound, a little bit more classic-rock rather than progressive (hence the title), but featuring admirable instances of art-rock elements, such as keyboard playing or guitar solos. The song "Virtual Reality" with dreamy piano and background guitar noise is perhaps the most fascinating piece of this period. The band members changed frequently during its years of existence. By the time I'm writing this contribution, The Skys are:
Jonas Ciurlionis – vocals and lead guitar
There is also back vocalist Vica Kistej and a sax player with the band. -- Anna Danilevic
Click here for The Skys' web site
Click here for some MP3 downloads
Skywalk (84), The Bohemians (86), Paradiso (88), Larger Than Life (92)
Canadian six-piece progressive/fusion outfit featuring bass, guitars, keys, saxes and two percussionists, that occasionally pull some influence from the world-beat genre, but never actually cross over into it wholeheartedly. The playing is cohesive and fluid, and full of high energy conversations between the saxes, guitar and keys. Their newest has one vocal track on it, but other than that they're entirely instrumental. Start with the new one.
Sort of (72)
Casablanca Moon (74)
Desperate Straights (75, with Henry Cow)
Acnalbasac Noom (80, Recorded 1973, a.k.a. Slapp Happy)
Ça Va (98)
Live in Japan, May 2000 (01, Live)
|Multi-national trio composed of Dagmar Krause (Germany, vocals, ex-I. D. Company), Peter Blegvad (U.S., guitar) and Anthony Moore (England, keyboards). I have Acnalbasac Noom. I would hesitate to call it prog. Perhaps "alternative pop" would be the most fitting term. Blegvad's lyrics are very literate and sophisticated. The band uses many different styles, modern and old-fashioned, to get their point across: Byrds-ian guitar rock, Supremes-esque soul, Amon Düül II-ish space rock, waltzes, tangos, pop-rock, cabaret-styled torch songs, etc. In other words, they cover pretty much every style. Krause's otherworldly, piping soprano doesn't always fit well into all of them. Overall, the bands' members have shown lots more elsewhere: Krause in the Art Bears, Blegvad in Lodge. -- Mike Ohman|
|Rather peculiar RIO style German pop/folk band famed for their weird and wonderful singer Damgar Krause. Joined with Henry Cow for the superb Cow album In Praise of Learning in 1975. Dagmar continued to hang out with Cow members while the other Slapp Happy people split with them rather acrimoniously. Slapp Happy play sort of dreamy and peculiar music with a sinister undercurrent all hacked into almost "normal" song structures. Apparently, they considered their signing by Polydor for their second album rather subversive as they had been signed to make some "pop" albums. They tried to do craft their RIO influenced music into normal structures in order to infiltrate popular music. It works. Sound like Faust at times. Dagmar's vocals range from the love-it-or-hate-it style typified on In Praise of Learning to a sweet melodious croon that sounds nothing like that. Apparently she regained her voice after two years of problems to sing with this band. I haven't heard Sort Of but Desperate Straights is great and definitely the better of the last two.|
Acnalbasac Noom and Casablanca Moon are essentially two different recordings of
same set of songs. Acnalbasac Noom was recorded in 1973 in Faust's
studio with their assistance, but Polydor, already sore about having been suckered into the same
arrangement on the group's debut Sort of, refused to release it. It was only put out in
1980 by Chris Cutler's Recommended Records. Slapp Happy moved to the UK,
were signed by Virgin and re-recorded the material with a new producer - hence Casablanca
The albums have a slightly different running order and one different song ("Charlie 'N Charlie" on AN, "Haiku" on CM), but otherwise the differences lie in arrangements. Acnalbasac Noom's is a stripped-down and austere sound, often just piano/guitar, bass and drums with some synthesizer effects, its performances rather tight and unaffected. The Casablanca Moon versions are more flowing and polished, with more extensive arrangements, including occasional strings and horns. The only larger difference between versions appears in the bridge sections of "Dawn" where AN replaces the vocals of CM with a synthesizer siren. Which album one prefers is largely a matter of personal taste - perhaps comparable to the divide between the English symphonic approach and the more stringent avant-garde attack of Faust? -- Kai Karmanheimo
|Links||[See Art Bears | Henry Cow | I. D. Company | Lodge | News From Babel]|
Grand Opening and Closing (01)
Live (03, Live)
Museum of Natural History (04)
In Glorious Times (07)
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum 2005 - (not in photo order, nor am I even certain who's
in this photo) Moe! Staiano (junkyard percussion), Carla Kihlstedt (violin,
vocals, homemade gear), Frank Grau (drums), Nils Frykdahl (guitar, vocals)
and Dan Rathbun (bass, vocals, homemade gear). In 2004, new members were
added, though I'm unsure which have departed. These are Matthias
Bossi (drums/oration) and Michael Mellender (percussion, player of all
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum play RIO Butoh-metal. As you might suspect from this designation, their music does not submit to easy description. The following entry will focus upon the esthetics, intentions, and significance of their live presentation and not upon their recording, because their own focus and importance lies in stage performance.
The band formed in late 1998 and come from the Bay Area. They consist of: Nils Frykdahl - guitars, vocals; Carla Kihlstedt - violin, vocals, homemade guitar laid flat and fretted by slamming drumsticks onto the neck, toy piano; Dan Rathbun - bass, vocals, producer-engineer, 9-foot-long slab of wood strung with six piano strings and played with a slide, indescribable one-stringed widget involving a bamboo bow on a hi-hat stand; Moe! Staiano (this is how he spells it!) - junkyard percussion including cooking pans, small oil drum, tuned gas-bottle pressure-caps, and other metallic odds and ends; and Frank Grau - drum kit. Dan and Nils came from Idiot Flesh; Carla checked in from the klezmer-rock band Charming Hostess; Moe! and Frank (replacing original drummer David Shamrock*) arrived from the experimental-improv scene - Moe! from his own project Moe!kestra and Frank from Species Being. Their name comes from a New York artists' studio space, print shop, and series of surreal performance-art Happenings in the first half of this century.
Unlike most progressive bands, they tour extensively, usually making two or three coast-to-coast road trips a year. They do so because they have achieved one thing that very few progressive bands manage to accomplish: They have built a respectable following almost completely outside of the progressive community - an odd Mulligan Stew of metalheads, goths, punks, artists, tribalists, and ordinary punters who saw them and got hooked.
Their live show deserves a lot of the credit for this: using bizarre makeup, costumes ranging from ragged sheets to stained tuxedos, and contorted facial expressions, SGM present a nightmarish gaggle of thrashing, lurching, staggering grotesques. This connects in some way with a band-mythology fully as bizarre and elaborate as Magma's, if not quite so creepily off-putting. While highly theatrical, their act hasn't a hint of Spinal Tap dorkiness, and luck has nothing to do with that: Nils has studied performance art quite seriously and at this point, may know it as well as he knows music. A good deal of the band's esthetic derives from Butoh, a Japanese form of modern dance which aims at communicating a sort of pre-rational dream-state and requires its nearly-nude, white-painted dancers to perform every movement, especially the slowest, with tense and ferocious conviction.
Their music has the same striking, exaggerated, larger-than-life expressiveness. SGM don't simply play music - they perform it: almost every note gets bent, faded in or out, blurted, swallowed, screamed, snarled, shaped in some other over-the-top fashion, and put across as if it might be their last. Even the quietest passages get that kind of emphasis - and the band may stay quiet for five or six minutes, slowly building their way to pounding, crushing, headlong passages that rock like the Crack of Doom. And nobody, not even in Death Metal or Hardcore Punk, rocks harder. Yet they manage to do so without sinking into cliches, to balance right upon the very fine line between intellectualized attempts to rock out and Dummkopf Buttrawk without falling to either side. Some prog-fans might find them harsh, vulgar, and unsubtle, and they definitely play to the cheap seats, but few would deny that their approach accomplishes what it sets out to do.
The music they've evolved has very little to do with symphonic, Canterbury, or fusion. Significant parts of it seem to come from the Art Bears - but they somehow make that uncompromising approach reach people without dumbing it down. Echoes appear of Van der Graaf Generator's unhinged song-structures and quavering emotionalism, and of King Crimson's grinding off-kilter riffs. In addition, they have considerable Industrial-Tribalist leanings, a buttload of Heavy Metal influences, and they tend to play progressively-derived ideas in those styles. However, the result rarely comes out like conventional prog-metal. Fans unaware of their less-familiar antecedents may see them simply as a bizarre metal band, one which uses dissonant musical craziness to convey overwhelming emotional craziness.
SGM also possess an experimental-music ensemble's fascination with sound: the crashes, clangs, boings, and screeches of metallic junkyard percussion; the rumble, twang, and ZOOP of homemade string instruments; the odd timbres that stomp-box effects and unconventional playing techniques can produce from conventional gear; and the mumbles, growls, whispers, yelps, howls, and other noises that human throats can emit. They have very respectable compositional chops, unlike most textural sound-explorers: They can imagine and build a clear, well-defined musical context for every one of those strange tone-colors and find an emotional meaning for each. And they do have considerable instrumental skill. The guitar parts range from folky arpeggios to Frith-like leads to Hammer-of-Hell metal riffs; the violin shades between meltingly beautiful classical melodies, David Cross scratchiness, and pure squawking noise; the bass plays simple but pulverizing and absolutely solid lines; the junkyard provides clattering fills, colors, and effects; and the drums go from minimalist understatement to mosh-pit aggro. Quick, technical, full-of-notes passages rarely appear - when you aim to put overwhelming feeling into each and every note, you don't want to play a lot of 'em. Vocally, Nils' scratchy bass-baritone sounds a bit like Peter Hammill singing heavy metal, while Carla's harsh soprano resembles Dagmar without the German accent (Dan's decent but less-striking voice handles mostly backups). The lyrics which they howl out with such ferocity appear to deal with a variety of real-life emotional issues, but tend away from the overly direct - they communicate the feeling without exposing details. The songs work well: underneath the white-knuckled performances and Martian textures, they seem to have a strong sense of harmonic direction, and this hidden clarity may have something to do with how their music communicates to general audiences. SGM don't make things complex for their own sake - or simple for their own sake. Everything comes from the meaning, from the emotion the music needs to convey. The tunes don't sound impressed by or even aware of their own cleverness. However, the band's considerable virtuosity shows in compositional smarts, in fiendishly difficult rhythmic synchronizations, and in performing some pretty hard music with both utter precision and the manic intensity of a three-chord hardcore band.
Besides building an audience from the general public, SGM have done one other thing that might seem impossible. They found a context for, not just progressive rock, but RIO complexity and dissonance outside of the prog-rock box. RIO bands may have a great deal of feeling, but they even put off many progressive fans because of their left-wing academic "refusal to pander". Like Hanns Eisler**, they seem to consider working subversively within public taste as tantamount to simply selling out to the mob. SGM, though, don't approach progressive music from an intellectual-idealist stance, but from a populist one: They understand that people want music to stir them, respect them for wanting that, and accept them as their current selves rather than what an intellectual artist might think they should become. And they don't confuse that with talking down to their fans.
The band's own musical preferences parallel this: They enjoy Metal and Industrial music for their own strengths. They love playing them. Yet they know how to bring a composer's sensibility to the enraged onslaught of Metal, the tranced-out rhythmic drive of Tribalist, the nightmarism grimness of Industrial, the spooky tension of Experimental textures, and the uncompromising conviction of RIO. They use each as an expressive opportunity and not as a stricture to work within. Viewed in this light, their Art Bears influence comes as an unexpected reflection of Metal's furious aggression - a music of subtler but equal power whose harsh, off-center, unrelenting wrongness makes it far more disturbing than any straight headbanger band. Both styles use musical extremes to convey overwhelming emotion; and so do all the band's other influences: Experimental music provides the ominous emptiness and crashing apocalyptic explosions, Industrial music the grinding psychotic paranoia, Tribalist music the Dionysian abandon. And here again, as in everything, the Butoh esthetic shows up: even at their quietest, all these styles have overpowering intensity in common.
And finally, that intensity lies at the center of the Sleepytime Gorilla approach and ties everything they do together. Some may see them as calculated and thus ultimately fraudulent. Their music and stage-show do consist of a performance by serious artistic professionals. They don't originate from real life-or-death desperation in the way that Punk, Metal, Country, and Blues do (or must appear to). They may not convince hipster intellectuals in their endless search for the authentic or mosh-pit bruisers who live it 24-7, can recognize the real thing, and reject anything less. But SGM have committed themselves to becoming the best band and performers that they possibly can, and have done an awful lot of musical and theatrical homework to that end. They believe in music, in Art as something that should overpower anyone who experiences it. And to that purpose, this band has set out to reclaim progressive rock as a live music, as a performance: to engage an audience with theatrics, to pull them along with extended, traveling song forms, to use dissonant complexity for its huge potential emotional power, to play with such energy that their music's difficult strangeness doesn't matter, to produce an experience so overwhelming that it makes the punters take notice. Progressive rock could - should - have that kind of force. It needs to consist of more than standing motionless, hoping to floor audiences by playing convoluted, jaw-droppingly difficult technical passages. Over some thirty-five years, progressive artists have developed a vocabulary of immense potential, but far too many of them have said far too little with it. These guys try to make it live up to what it could become.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum have taken on a set of Herculean tasks: To keep their music on a very narrow path - intelligent but not intellectualized, artistic but not arty, and visceral but not buttheaded. To shade between genres that seem only vaguely compatible and somehow keep the strong points of each one. To know performance art so well that they can put on a theatrical show and have it work instead of turning into a bad joke. To play with such force that all of this works and they convert the doubters. To tour constantly and get it out there. And I think that they do a pretty good job of all of these. Their material and their presentation may not please every prog-fan or everyone in general. But at heart, it remains true to the progressive ideal of music as transcendance and keeps it alive on into the coming century. -- John Hagelbarger
* David Shamrock recorded with Thinking Plague on A History of Madness but did not gig with the band. So it might be a little hard to say whether he "joined"
Thinking Plague or not.
[See Cheer Accident |
Frith, Fred |
Idiot Flesh |
Shamrock, David |
Click here for the
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum web site
J'un Oeil (75)
|Offbeat fusion-based prog from Quebec. Stadaconé starts off very jazzy and gradually gets more and more complex as the album progresses. Superb sax and guitar work, but the mesmerizing ARP synthesizer leads are the standout on the instrumental edge. The keyboardist has a fiery synth tone not unlike Et Cetera's Marie Bernard. Also notable are the strange Swingle Singers-like massed wordless vocals, almost some sort of scat-singing. J'un Oeil has some more conventional singing (with lyrics on more than just one track this time round), but is still outstanding. One of Canada's most striking bands.|
Slychosis - James Walker, Gregg Johns and Todd Sears
Original entry 7/19/06:
Like Karma-Kannix, Slychosis is obviously a "basement studio band". I really like the musical compositions on their self-titled album, and the lyrics are pretty cool too. The musicianship ranges from excellent to barely passable, depending on which instrument we're talking about, and which part of which song. There's even a couple of places that sound out of tune, and other places where the instruments lag and lead relative to each other. The recording quality, while an improvement over the Karma-Kannix release, still leaves much to be desired, particularly in the drum and vocal micing. The mix also has strange resonances and a fair amount of muddiness.
Now, I must say, I've heard albums where this many difficulties with the recording and execution completely ruins it for me. But in this case, I don't feel that way for some reason. I like Slychosis. It'll never be in my top-10 albums list, but I've heard many albums that boast better production qualities and tighter musicianship that simply bore me to tears. Slychosis is the kind of band that, if they lived in my town, I'd be hanging around during their practice sessions trying to convince them they could use a burned-out old keyboardist and studio man in their band, just because I would really enjoy playing these songs. The tunes are stimulating, the lyrics are clever and the musicianship ... well, they could use a keyboardist. And a producer. That's high praise coming from me, so I hope you'll try this band out! -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Slychosis' web site
Smak (75), Crna Dama (77), Ulazak u Harem (77, English language version: Black Lady), Stranice Naseg Vremena (78, English language version Smak Dab In The Middle), Rock Cirkus (80), Zasto Ne Volim Sneg (81), Hitopazeda (??, EP), Nevidljive Terazije (??, EP)
Their first two albums are reputed to be outstanding prog, replete with side-long pieces. The only one I have heard is Black Lady, the English version of Ulazak u Harem, recorded in London, and featuring a guest spot by percussion maestro Morris Pert (of Brand X). Much of what's here is superb: energetic fusion-tinged prog, with some low-key spaciness resembling the lighter moments of Tako. Unfortunately, not everything is as high-quality as "Domestic Lesson" or "Hello". There are also some rather mainstream bluesy rock tunes, which apparently make up the bulk of their subsequent output. The '80s albums are said not to be prog at all. -- Mike Ohman
[See Ristovski, Laza]
Vanguardia y Pureza del Flamenco (78)
Gettin' Smile (7?)
Hard rock/prog, pre-Queen.
All Mimsy were the Borogoves (94)
Through the Gates of Deeper Slumber (97)
Other releases are singles and EP's (usually split with other bands)
Smell of Incense (the only band photo I could find) - Bumble B. (viola, vocals), Ernie Chung (guitar,
bass, vocals), Han Solo (bass, organ, mellotron), Cool Kat (drums), Lumpy Davy (guitar, sitar, vocals)
I've only heard the samples on the Cranium Music site. Trippy, folky psychedelic music with sitars and stuff. Female vocalist reminds me of White Willow's Sylvia Erichsen. Like totally groovy, man. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||Click here to order from Cranium records.|
Med Tofraboga (8?)
Obscure Icelandic (!) release by ex-Van der Graaf/String Driven Thing violinist.
[See String Driven Thing | Van der Graaf Generator]
Vital Information (83), Orion (84), Global Beat (87), Fiafiaga (88), Vitalive (91), Easier Done Than Said (93)
Early albums are credited to Smith, newest album is credited only to "Vital Information," all albums feature Smith, who's undoubtedly one of the finest drummers around. The band (current lineup) features Jeff Andrews (bass), Frank Gambale (guitar), and Tom Coster (keys); As might be expected, their sound can be anything from tight, blistering fusion, to cool laid-back jazz, with some occasional carribean/South American. influence, highly melodic, inventive, and (of course) rhythmic. These guys are one of the most impressive fusion outfits going today. Start with Vitalive, you'll be blown away.
As Gilli Smyth
Stroking the Tail of the Bird (90, w/ Daevid Allen & Harry Williamson)
Every Witches Way (93)
Politico-Historico-Spirito (95, CD comes with Gilli's book)
As Mother Gong
As Goddess T
Gilli Smyth circa 1978, cover photo from Mother album. The baby is one of her
sons with Daevid Allen, Taliesin
Gilli Smyth was born June 1st, 1932 in Wales. She invented the "Space Whisper" style of singing when she was a member of the original Gong, and has continued to use this singing style along with speaking her feminist and political poetry in her own bands, Mother Gong, GLO and Goddess T. In a 1971 interview, she described her style thus: "I began with poetry, lines of words ... then I started enlarging the sounds that were in the ideas of words, and the ideas became sounds ... The aim is to provoke the audience, to get them excited ... make them active rather than passive. The main aim of our music is to immerse our audience in a state out of the daily life ...". She has come full circle and rejoined with Daevid Allen and other original Gong members for the 2000 Zero to Infinity CD, and still continues to do her solo work with GLO and Goddess T.
Gilli met Daevid Allen in 1964 in Paris, but was married before that and has a daughter, Tasmyn, who was involved in early Gong albums, i.e. Magick Brother. she worked for some time as an English teacher but also began to work as a poetess, reciting her works during shows at London's Roundhouse. She published her first book, "The Nitrogen Dreams Of A Wide Girl".
Smyth was a member of Gong from the end of 1967 until her first departure from the band in March 1975. During this time, she was supposedly initiated to the name of Shakti Yoni by Banana Ananda at his ashram in the South of France. This piece of folklore sounds suspicious to me, since I know that Gilli is a Wiccan priestess (a witch), not a Hindu, and has taught witchcraft at several Goddess gatherings. Of course she also chose the role of "The Good Witch Yoni" for her character in Gong. Her poetry and political leanings (and celebration of both her sexuality and motherhood) sound far more feminist Wiccan to me than Hindu, so I'm not too sure about the "Banana Ananda" thing. Not to mention that "Banana Ananda" sounds more like one of Daevid Allen's character names than a real guru's name.
While in Gong, Smyth (with Daevid Allen) gave birth to two sons, Taliesin and Orlando, which resulted in periods spent away from the band. When she eventually left Gong, she started working on Mother, her first solo project. This was produced by Daevid Allen, even though she had broken up with him after guesting on the Planet Gong album and taking part in the Gong reunion of 1977.
In order to promote Mother, Smyth assembled a group of touring musicians which became Mother Gong. In June 1978, she was touring the UK and playing the same venues as Nik Turner's Sphynx. Harry Williamson was the guitarist in that band, and Smyth asked him to compose the music for three traditional fairy tales which she had adapted to her own style ("Wassilissa", "The Three Tongues" and "The Pied Piper"). This collaboration became the album Fairy Tales, and also became a personal collaboration ... Smyth and Williamson were married in 1980, and they became the core writing and performing team of Mother Gong.
Mother Gong, consisting of Smyth and Williamson plus Gong alumnus Didier Malherbe with members of his Bloom band Jan Emeric and Jean-Philippe Rykiel, plus Dane Kranenburg and Guy Evans, created their own trilogy to rival the original Gong trilogy, this one called Robot Woman. It is the story of Beta, a robot woman who malfunctions (stops taking orders from her demanding male chauvinist owner) and is repaired by the Kumkwik repairman, who sets her free. It's a thinly disguised parable of women's role in Western society, who are simply supposed to be robots to cook, clean and provide sex for their mates (or "owners"). The music here is very reminiscent of the trilogy-era Gong, and I really wish it would be reissued on CD, though some of the best cuts can be heard on the Best of Mother Gong compilation.
In 1982, while finishing the Robot Woman 2 album, Smyth and Williamson decided to move to Australia because of their fears of a nuclear war ("Australia" on the Robot Woman 1 album is about this). During the next few years they released the rest of the Robot Woman trilogy. In 1986, they recorded the Magenta and Stroking the Tail Of The Bird albums with Daevid Allen in Williamson's Melbourne studios. In 1987, a new Mother Gong band line-up was formed with local musicians Conrad Henderson (bass) and Rob George (drums), plus fellow British expatriate saxophonist Robert Calvert. This line-up recorded Wild Child, Tree In Fish, Magenta/She made The World, Eye and Every Witch's Way. These are all heavily improvised albums, frequently recorded in all-night sessions on a full moon or pagan holy days such as Solstices or Equinoxes.
In the early 1990's, the band split up, and the Autumn 1991 US and UK tours were duo affairs by Smyth and Williamson with support from Thom The World Poet, which resulted in the Live 1991 CD. In 1992 and 1993 Smyth did solo tours in the US and UK, using backing tapes from Mother Gong sessions, and in 1994 played the first International Goddess Festival in Santa Cruz. In 1994, she was joined once again by Robert Calvert for another tour of the US and the UK. Smyth also began reuniting with the original Gong in the '90's. In April 1990, she participated in the televised concert by the reformed band, and in 1993 she rejoined the band on a permanent basis. She appeared on the Gong 25th Birthday Party album in October 1994.
Her next projects were GLO (Goddesses Love Oranges) with Gong multi-instrumentalist Steffi Sharpstrings, and Goddess T (T for Trance). GLO started doing "rave" gigs in the Summer of 1995 and the following year released their debut album Even As We. Another ambient trance album, Goddess Trance, was recorded on New Year's Eve 1996 in Byron Bay (Australia) with Daevid Allen and Taliesin as guests. Goddess T is Smyth's North Coast band that she works with when in Australia and includes Orlando Allen (drums), Tony Wandella (bass), Nick Spacetree (synths), Kavin (percussion & flute) and FX Sonic Bloom (effects).
At present, Gilli Smyth spends about half the year touring with Gong and her Goddess projects, and the rest of the time writing new material, walking the beaches of Rainbow Country and healing dogs. She is also working on a new line-up of Mother Gong, this time called Gong Matrist. -- Fred Trafton, adapted from the Calyx biography (see Links)
|I bought She Made the World Magenta yesterday ... and sold it again straight away. It is bad. The music was not *too* bad but Gilli Smyth speaks *really* purile and predictable New Age drivel all over it. The first track is over half an hour (nearly half the entire disc) of a (Daevid Allen contributed) ambient drone with Gilli Smyth going on about how we are all part of a whole and how I am you and you are me etc. I have nothing particularly against New Age material but this is *so* trite it's unbelievable. Imagine the stupid voice you put on and stupid things you say when imitating sterotypical New Ageisms ... the entire album sounds *exactly* like that. I contemplated keeping the CD for its comedy value. But I didn't. Avoid. Maybe the earlier stuff is better?|
[See Allen, Daevid |
Calvert, Robert |
Here and Now |
for the full Calyx Gilli Smyth biography
King of the Robot Rhythm (74, w/ Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers)
Bongos Over Balham (75, w/ Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers)
Chewing Hides the Sound (79)
Greener Postures (80)
Manual of Errors (82)
Night of Desirable Objects (86, w/ Snakefinger's Vestal Virgins)
Snakefinger's Vestal Virgins Live in Chicago (86, Live)
Live at the Vic (88, Live w/ Video)
Philip Charles Lithman aka Snakefinger (1949-1987) (97, Unreleased tracks)
I'll Be Home (97, Compilation w/ Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers)
Phil Lithman aka Snakefinger
The psuedonym for guitarist Phil Lithman, also part of Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers and affiliated with Fred Frith early efforts before both relocated to US. Also the Residents guitarist. All these releases on Ralph Records. Sometimes backed by parts of Captain Beefheart's band members. Chewing Hides the Sound includes "Jesus Was a Leprechaun." Manual of Errors includes cover of United States of America's "Garden of Earthly Delights."
|Links||[See The Residents]|
The Bloomsbury People (70)
Virginia Woolf (72)
Trinity Seaseizesees (74)
Nobody to Dream (75)
Thinking out Loud (78, reissued on CD 1996)
First Band on the Moon (80, as Snopek, reissued on CD 2002)
Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein (82, reissued on CD 2001)
Voodoo Dishes (aka Feeling American) (Recorded 1982, never released)
Modern Heaven (recorded 1983, never released)
Wisconsinsane (86, reissued on CD 1989)
Turnaround (93, Cassette only)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (94, reissue of Virginia Woolf with bonus tracks)
Nobody to Dream (97, newly recorded version of this work)
Music for Pipe Organ (00, recorded in 1995)
Trinity Seaseizesees (00, 2CD re-recorded 1997-99, plus original tracks from 1973)
Sigmund Snopek III
In my original entry on Snopek, I waxed philosophical about how in the heck Sigmund Snopek III managed to remain unmentioned in the GEPR until 2002. Well, that was when I had only heard Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein, and based only on that, I'll stick by my opinion that "This guy is one of the most innovative progressive artists around". However, having now heard First Band on the Moon as well, I must admit that I have new respect for those who don't share this opinion, including a fellow who wrote me recently to say "Sigmund Snopek III is as much progressive as the Brady Bunch." This is rather harsh, but I must agree that First Band on the Moon certainly isn't extraordinarily progressive. Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein is entirely different, a mixture of progressive rock, modern classical composition, avant garde dissonances and irreverent humor reminiscent of Frank Zappa. Roy Rogers is as interesting as much of Zappa's best, and shows that Snopek is capable of as a composer and performer, though Snopek's main instruments are woodwinds and keyboards rather than guitar.
In the late '60's, Snopek's disdain for commercial pop music led him, like many others of his time, to explore "unusual chord progressions, distinctive rhythms and unexpected melodies". This was before the term "progressive rock" came into use, and Snopek's band at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee was sometimes referred to as "psychedelic" or "classical" rock. It was only years later that the term "prog rock" came into use, and was applied to Snopek's output, particularly the compositions from 1968 through 1975 immortalized on vinyl by The Bloomsbury People through Nobody to Dream. After this, Snopek followed his management's advice to become more "pop", which led to greater commercial success (he has toured with the popular band Violent Femmes, for instance). However, Snopek felt that the lack of energy and innovation in this music made composition in this idiom a less than satisfying experience.
With the resurgence of interest in progressive rock, the German label "Music Is Intelligence" contacted Snopek and offered to re-release some of the early prog releases. They re-released Nobody to Dream and Virginia Woolf, much of it recently re-recorded. In 2000, Musea Records re-released Trinity Seaseizesees, in a 2CD version with parts recorded in 1997-1999 which were never recorded for the original release. Recently, Musea has re-released Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein in 2001 and First Band on the Moon in 2002.
First Band on the Moon was released in 1980, and is by Sigmund Snopek III's band, going by the name of Snopek. Rather than "progressive", I would categorize this album as "Novelty Rock", with lots of sarcastic humor and oddball musical twists, rather like Sparks or even the Bonzo Dog Band (though not quite as warped as BDB). It has its strange features, but is quite mainstream, simple and accessable. There are also several songs with lots of vocal overdubs that remind me of 10cc circa The Original Soundtrack with that same cinematic feel, though this album's synth sounds are decidedly '80's. The only song I would really call "progressive" is the album's instrumental cut, "Robotiko" from "A Ride in the Dark", which for this album is alleged to be part of a "Rock Ballet" composed by Snopek (the piece occurs in its entirety on Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein). I can't call First Band on the Moon a terrible album, but let me just say that now that I'm done reviewing it, it probably won't be finding its way into my CD player again any time soon.
Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein is another side of Snopek. This is really a solo album rather than a "band" album, and is really three compositions by Snopek. The first is "Ride in the Dark", a multi-part suite of symphonic music very reminiscent of Frank Zappa, including the use of high-speed "gnat notes", unexpected eruptions of triplets, a maniacal Queen-like overdubbed chorale section and the use of horn and woodwinds (though these might be synthesizers in this case). If you're a Zappa fan or a modern classical music fan, you should have no trouble liking this composition, with its intricate counterpoints, rock fugues and recurring themes. Just an amazing piece of compositional and technical virtuosity, but with a distinct sense of humor. You don't get the impression that Snopek takes himself all that seriously, despite the clearly "classically trained" sound.
The second part is actually "Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein", which is also quite Zappa like, this time with the help of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, though the orchestra is used only for some sections. This has a brief but very Zappaish vocal section, with a pseudo-western beat, mention of eating Trigger, and then manages to rhyme "Dale" with "whacks the whale". If that's not Zappaish, I don't know what is.
The final part, "Song Sing to the Doldrum King" is a very classical-sounding flute solo performed by guest musician Llena de la Madrugada, who manages to make just about every sound the flute is capable of producing during the course of this avant garde piece. This composition includes overblowing, weak blowing (you can hear the valves clicking about as loudly as the quavering pitches), explosive stacatto puffing, vocalizing while blowing and slow pitch bends to create special effects unexpectedly among the sections of more predictable flute melodies. Excellent but fairly intellectual fare.
I'm still wondering if he's going to create something new, or just keep re-releasing his '70's and '80's compositions. If he does, I would hope that he sticks to his neo-classical style of music rather than the humorous rock'n'rollers from First Band on the Moon. I now believe that you can't write off anything Snopek does, since he has definitely proven that he can create amazing music, but he's also proven that he can do simple and mainstream composition as well. Don't buy anything without some idea of which you're getting first. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Sigmund Snopek III's
Click here to order Sigmund Snopek III titles from Musea Records
A sort of mini-supergroup: Roye Albrighton from Nektar on guitar and vocals, Dave King from Embryo on bass and synth, Kristian Schulze and Curt Cress from Passport on keyboards and drums, respectively. The style is closest to Passport, slick studio fusion with Albrighton on lead vocals. The use of polyphonic synth sometimes reminds me of Release Music Orchestra. I doubt anyone will find this an essential purchase, but it's competent enough. -- Mike Ohman
[See Embryo | Nektar | Passport]
It Reminds Me Of Those Days (90)
It Reminds Me of Macbethia (00, re-release with all of Macbethia and about half of It Reminds Me of Those Days)
|Dominated by the keyboards and writing of Nobuo "Kodomo" Endoh, this Japanese trio comes off sounding a lot like ELP or maybe more accurately like the American group Mastermind, given the currency and freshness of their sound. Macbethia is a very strong and ambitious first effort deserving a place in any progressive collection, whereas the second It Reminds Me of Those Days seems a little less inspired, although it too has many outstanding moments. There are good Japanese vocals on most tracks, but overall their music is predominantly instrumental. They are a current band so hopefully we'll be hearing more from them again soon. Their covers all have beautiful Roger Dean style artwork.|
|Social Tension are proof that the keyboard power trio is still a viable format and that ELP simply ran out of good ideas. Led by Nubuo "Kodomo" Endoh, Social Tension plays a music that is very similar in style to ELP, with a nice blend of old and new keyboard technologies. Along with the Hammond, piano and Moog (some nice moog work is to be heard here), you'll hear Mellotron, harpsichord, and digital synths. The vocals are in Japanese and are none too powerful. Fortunately, they're not heard often. They write interesting compositions with a good balance between heavy pomposity and lighter delicacy. The drummer certainly is no Palmer so sometimes Social Tension lack the energy heard in ELP but it's nice to hear some good ELP-styled keyboard prog without all of Emerson's tired cliches and classical rip-offs. Kodomo also plays on the King's Board's album. Either album is a good place to start.|
|Links||[See King's Boards]|
(Untitled) (86, EP)
(Untitled) (90, LP)
Le Femme: Portraits (93)
Les Explositionnistes (95)
Expériences de Survie (99)
86-90 (01, re-release of 1986 EP and 1990 LP)
Le Combat Occulté (02)
Tranches de Temps Jeté / Slices of Thrown Time (06)
La STPO - (Not in photo order) - Pascal Godjikian (vocals), JimB (guitar), Christophe
Gautheur (saxophone, synthesizers), Benoît Delaune (bass) and Patrice Babin (percussion)
La Société des Timides à la parade des Oiseaux (a.k.a. La STPO or The Society of Shy People at the Parade of Birds) is an RIO-influenced band from France that is in the same vein as some of the more inaccessible Henry Cow pieces. They imposed upon the world their energetic, dynamic, absurdist, theatrical, awkwardly fascinating interpretation of rock with the release of an untitled EP in 1986 followed by an untitled LP in 1990. Not easy to listen to but those who can handle it would find it very interesting. -- Armel Patanian
Click here for La STPO's web site
Click here to order La STPO titles from Beta-lactam Ring Records
Socrates Drank The Cronium (72)
Taste The Cronium (72)
On The Wings (73)
Phos (76, as Socrates, w/ Vangelis)
Waiting for Something (80, as Socrates)
Breaking Through (81, as Socrates)
Plaza (83, as Socrates)
|The band was originally called Socrates Drank the Cronium but later shortened the name to just Socrates. Early albums were heavy rock, but with Phos, they added Vangelis Papathanassiou, of Aphrodite's Child and Vangelis fame. His keyboards added depth and some degree of progressiveness to their overall sound. Thus, I would call Phos a heavy progressive work. In addition to the keyboards, there is acoustic and electric guitars, and a fair amount of English vocals. Most of the songs have a strong influence from Grecian folk music. First Vangelis will be laying down layers of synths and bell-like sounds, which will give way to acoustic guitars playing in a folk-like manner. These will weave together and the electric guitar come in to drive the sound. Variations on this basic idea describe the music on Phos. The opening cut, for example, is driven by the electric guitar and reflects their heavy rock aspect, while other cuts get very spacious and somewhat akin to Pink Floyd or Omega. There's also a psychedelic vibe here and there, such as one dreamy cut when they sing "close your eyes / and leave your mind." Sounds like that, anyway. -- Mike Taylor|
|Links||[See Aphrodite's Child | Vangelis]|
Rogue Element (78)
[See Hopper, Hugh | Gilgamesh | Soft Heap | Soft Machine]
Soft Heap (79)
This was a one-off reunion of former Soft Machine/Hatfield and the North members: Pip Pyle, Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean and Alan Gowen. Sounds a lot like Soft Machine circa Fourth or Fifth (is that any surprise?).
[See Dean, Elton | Gilgamesh | Hatfield and The North | Hopper, Hugh | National Health | Soft Head | Soft Machine]
Soft Machine Volume One (68)
Soft Machine Volume Two (69)
Live at the Proms 1970 (70)
Six Album (72)
The Unbeatable Soft Machine (??, Compilation)
Triple Echo (77)
Alive and Well in Paris (78)
Land of Cockayne (81)
The Peel Sessions (??, 2CD, BBC Recordings from 1969 to 1971)
Spaced (97, recorded in 1969)
Virtually (98, recorded in 1971)
Jet-Propelled Photographs (9?, First recordings w/ Daevid Allen, 1967)
Noisette (00, recorded in 1970)
Soft Machine in 1971 - Elton Dean, Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper and Mike Ratledge
The first album is very much in the psych vein, but its experimental edge makes it seem much more progressive than it otherwise might. The instrumentation is primarily just organ, bass and guitar, the music is pretty much just their live show translated to vinyl with added sound effects and treatments. Robert Wyatt's intricate drumming and high-pitched singing voice, along with Mike Ratledge's unique organ playing, were all very influential on the other Canterbury musicians. Bassist Kevin Ayers sings on the classic track "Why Are We Sleeping?", which he later redoes on one of his solo albums. Another good track: "A Certain Kind." The second album added new bassist Hugh Hopper as well as some additional instrumentation: saxes, flutes, guitars, etc. Definitely a touchstone album in the history of fusion, adding a complex jazzy style to the psych jamming of the first album, and sounding way ahead of its time. Note songs like "Hibou, Anemone And Bear", in 13/8 with powerful organ soloing, jazzy sax arrangements and a fine vocal and drum-solo by Wyatt. The third album is the landmark album, a double LP consisting solely of four tracks, each in the 18-minute range. They now have full-time members on saxophones and trombone, expanding from a trio to a sextet. Each of the tracks has its own character. Hopper's "Facelift" grows out of a lunatic, noisy organ solo into a vibrant horn-riff, followed by a lovely flute solo. "Slightly All The Time" is a very jazz-orientated piece with a magnificent sax-solo about three-fourths of the way into it. Wyatt's opus "Moon In June" starts as a lyrical vocal tune with heavenly bass soloing by Hopper. Half-way through, it becomes instrumental, with Ratledge's organ dominating, and the music becoming ever darker. Fascinating! The closing number, "Out-Bloody-Rageous", opens with an electronified glittery electric piano cadenza that reminds me of some of Terry Riley's work, or perhaps some of the German electronicians. This leads into the main section, a 9/4 movement with superb drumming by Wyatt. After a brief echo of the opening, we are greeted by some beautiful acoustic piano forming a bed for a very nice sax solo. Almost all fusion and experimental rock bands owe them a debt for this album. Later albums competent but rarely as inspired. -- Mike Ohman
|Fourth, Fifth, and Seven feature the improvisational, almost free-form jazz rock that Soft Machine ventured into after divesting themselves of Kevin Ayers. However, there is a strong musical virtuosity on all these releases that make them very compelling. In Fourth, the basic sound hinges around Ratledge's piano/organ patterns, punctuated by Elton Dean's sax solos, anchored by Hopper's bass and drums by Robert Wyatt. Wyatt departed before Fifth, but, the sound remained essentially unchanged. For Seven, the only original member left was Mike Ratledge, with Karl Jenkins appearing to take up the spot vacated by Dean. It may be his influence, but the music on this is more structured than that of the previous releases, which helped make this release more popular. Jet Propelled Photographs consists of studio recordings made by the Soft Machine line-up of Ayers, Wyatt, Ratledge, and the ubiquitous Daevid Allen. There is some contention as to whether these were to become an album, but portions showed up on the first couple of Soft Machine releases (volumes 1 and 2), and on Bananamoon. The recordings were made in 1967, very soon after the four protagonists had met, and reflect, to a good degree the early Soft Machine output. The CD also includes a very interesting history of the band by John Platt, and the following quotes from that should help describe the music on this release... the negatives .".. production qualities are minimal ... some of the playing is sloppy (especially Allen's guitar-playing, which only if one was being very kind could be called "atonal") ...," and the positives " ... the album has enthusiasm, not a little excitement, some great songs ... the whole thing was redeemed by Wyatt, whose vocals and drumming Allen described as "magnificent" ...." In balance, the value of this CD is more in its historical content, than, perhaps its music, but, for anyone who enjoyed the original Soft Machine line-up, this is probably worth it. Turns On is a live recording of the Hopper/ Wyatt/Ratledge line-up of Soft Machine (as noted on the sleeve), performed at Paradiso in March, 1969. The non-presence of Kevin Ayers is somewhat unusual, since this was the period when the foursome were preparing to release Volume Two, but that seems to be borne out by the fact that none of the tracks list Ayers as co-writer. The music is centered around the organ stylings of Ratledge (quite similar in style to Dave Stewart in his early-Egg days) and the drums of Wyatt, and fits well into the mold of the first three Soft Machine releases, with vocals by Wyatt.|
|Soft Machine are one of the seminal Canterbury bands. Growing out of the Wilde Flowers (along with Caravan), Soft Machine and Pink Floyd were the two most popular rock bands of the underground culture in the late '60s England. The band has gone through *many* personnel changes; consequently their sound has changed constantly over the years of their existence. I have four of the first five studio albums, missing only Four. Incorporating jazz elements and lyrical humor into the rock format, the Soft Machine's early music is best described as improvisations interrupted by songs. This live technique was realized on their studio albums where brief lyrical passages alternated with long improvisational jams. The early band was Kevin Ayers on guitar, Robert Wyatt on drums, Mike Ratledge on organ and, starting with Volume 2, Hugh Hopper on bass. Third was the classic release by this early formation of the band, mixing long improvisations with a mature style of composition. This album is a good introduction to the early Soft Machine. Robert Wyatt left before 5 was released and the band used two different drummers. Along with Wyatt went his distinctive voice which has a minor cult following! 5 is very spacious, showing influence of Pink Floyd, while Dean's sax and saxello play a major roll in the overall sound. The songs are still mostly improvisational, perhaps with a bit more structure and complexity than in earlier works. Mike Ratledge (who would remain the longest lasting member of the Soft Machine) still has a strong presence with his organ and electric piano but no longer are they a dominant force. This would be a good album to check out the jazzy experimental side of the band.|
The Soft Machine - An Annotated and Opinionated Discography
I should put a label on this band's music so you can all conveniently file it away and forget about listening to it. Unfortunately, it's not so easy so let's just call it "composed and improvised music played on electrically amplified instruments." All in all, not very danceable. DISCLAIMER: The following is typed completely from memory as circumstance has temporarily separated me from a large part of my record collection. Especially unreliable are the dates attributed to some of the recordings.
The Soft Machine: First official album. Lineup: Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers. The music bears Ayers stamp more than anyone elses. Here, the group has already taken a big turn away from normal pop music. Individual songs are bridged by improvised bits. Ratledge's organ solos are killers. Some goofy sixties production values date the work, however (big panning and swish boom effects). Produced by Chas Chandler and Tom Brown) but the story has it that the band effectively produced themselves while Chas was on the phone.
Volume II: Produced by George Martin. Ayers replaced by Hugh Hopper, their former roadie. Features long complex compositions with a backing horn section. The group has started to take to improvisation in a big way ("Esther's Nose Job") though some pop values remain ("Dedicated to You," "As Long as He Lies Perfectly Still").
Third (two discs): One of their most brilliant efforts. The classic lineup of Wyatt, Ratledge, Hopper, and Elton Dean (horns). Four sides, four compositions featuring extended improvisations from all musicians. Influences ranging from Terry Riley to Eric Satie. "Moon in June" is the last sample of Wyatt's singing with the band.
Four: Same lineup as Third. Roy Babbington has a guest appearance on double bass. More "jazzy," less dramatic and cooler than Third.
Fifth - The other essential Soft Machine album. Wyatt has left to form Matching Mole (from the French translation of "soft machine": "machine molle"). Replaced by Neil Dolen, then John Marshall. One piece of music that I have not grown tired of listening to after eight years, especially the opening cut "All White" where Elton Dean blows extremely hot.
Six (two discs, one recorded live): Karl Jenkins comes on board to replace Elton Dean. The live stuff is pretty bland. The studio disc contains four compositions of which "Chloe and the Pirates" makes buying the whole set worthwhile. "Stanley Stamp's Gibbon Album" contains a lot of manic energy but Ratledge's improvisations seem to be losing their edge and the whole song bogs down in repetitivity. Hugh Hopper's "1984" is a rather dark experimental piece. Jenkins' piece presages "New Age" music with some complex but repetitive polyrythms.
Seven: Roy Babbington in, Hugh Hopper out. This album can be classed as the last of the Soft's main period as Jenkins begins to assume control of the band. Interesting but not entirely successful.
Bundles: Allan Holdsworth joins up. Ratledge is still present but on the margin. Jenkins more or less ceases to play his horns and takes up keyboards. The presence of Holdsworth exemplifies the music on this album, which is mostly in the heavy guitar based jazz-rock vein. Holdsworth fans should definitely get this one.
Softs: Ratledge and Holdswort leave. Guitar taken over by John Etheridge. Music continues to develop in the Jenkins direction: new age tinged jazz-rock (hmm, that might suggest Pat Metheny to some but that's not right. Think of Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire with a dose of Wyndham Hill or vice versa).
Alive and Well: From a series of Paris concerts. More of the same.
Land of Cockaigne: Last studio album (last album ever?). Mostly a Karl Jenkins solo effort with backing from an orchestra, Marshall, Holdsworth, and Jack Bruce(!).
The Peel Sessions (Top Gear BBC recordings, 2 cd's): Fantastic collection of live recordings featuring Wyatt, Ratledge, Hopper, and Dean. Contains recordings of the brief seven man lineup with the addition of Marc Charig, Lyn Dobson, and a third person. ('69, '70, '71).
Triple Echo: Legendary three disc compilation of material up to Fifth or Six. In 1983, I saw a battered copy in a used record shop in New York going for $100.
The Unbeatable Soft Machine: Compilation of Jenkins-era material. With 78 minutes of music on one disc, you can buy this one and forget about Bundles and after.
|Spaced is early, (until recently) unreleased recording, which can be seen as Soft Machine's foray into electronic music, probably helped by some "chemistry". Virtually and Noisette are essential live recordings from 1970-71 period, when Robert Wyatt was still part of the group. Noisette is from short-lived quintet line-up (with Lyn Dobson - reeds), and encapsulates the concert on which "Facelift" was recorded for the Third, while Jet-Set could offer some insights into earlier "wring-outs" of one of the most inspiring ensembles ever. -- Nenad Kobal|
|Links||[See Ayers, Kevin | Dean, Elton | Grimes, Carol and Delivery | Hopper, Hugh | Isotope | Matching Mole | Soft Head | Soft Heap | Wyatt, Robert]|
For Those Alone (78)
Chip-Meditation Part I (85)
Electronic Universe Part I (85)
Digital Dance (88)
Electronic Universe Part II (88)
Chip-Meditation Part Two (89)
Modesty-Blaze Vol. II (92)
various compilations, see text
|Software are Peter Mergener and Michael Weisser, two German musicians who have released a long string of electronic albums on the Innovative Communication label. Their sleeve notes talk a lot about demonstrating "the beauty of high tech", but I am not sure if their music is quite up to the task. At least their early albums are very much in the style of 70's Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, only less exciting. Repetitive, often overlayed synth sequences (with analog sounds sometimes sounding dangerously like early versions of the Space Invaders electronic game), drummachine beats and layers of spacey synthwashes to complete the dreamy picture. Not too original or exciting, but serves nicely as background music. Some tracks explore a bit further with more variation, melodic ideas and some additional solo instruments, such as guitar on "Fencing Clouds" and flute on "Wind-Flute-Chromatics" (both from 1985's Phancyful-Fire). What I have heard of the later albums, they seem to drift towards the lusher, more conventional new age sound. There are several compilations available for those interested in exploring their music: Past-Present-Future, Vol I and Vol II (both 1987) compile the essential tracks from their six first albums plus a couple of unreleased tracks; Ten Years (1994) features a cross section of their music from 1984 to 94; and Space Design - The Remix (1993), true to its name, features remixed and re-recorded versions of some of their better tracks, with sturdier sound. -- Kai Karmanheimo|
|Links||Click here for a pretty good Software fan web site|
Soho Orange (71, released 90)
Someone told me that this Scottish band, whose one album was recorded in 1971 but not released until 20 years later, was progressive, and I'd like to find him and get my fingers round his neck. To be fair, Soho Orange is far from the worst album I've ever purchased, but to be honest, it's not really progressive in the least. The band is apparently composed of dual guitars, bass and drums...no keyboards. In the lighter, more acoustic sections, the guitar interplay often resembles Amon Düül II, but for the most part it's grungy, bluesy garage-psychedelia. The vocals are often whiny and irritating, though not nearly so bad as, say, Gravy Train. Fans of Deep Purple or sixties garage-psych/punk may enjoy this, but fans of progressive music are advised to avoid this one.
Pressure: Music For Rich (91)
Tundra's Ghosts (92, as Yat-Kha)
Conquest Of The Arctic (95, as Soft Animals)
Khan's Afternoon Rest (96)
Ivan Sokolovsky is one of the new wave of Russian artists ... he calls himself a
"brilliant dilettante", meaning he's not a professional musician, but records
for his own enjoyment in a personal studio, much like his American counterparts
now do. Like other non-mainstream artists in other countries, he also doesn't
have a large following, and puts out his albums on a small Russian independent
label. I have Pressure: Music for Rich and Khan's Afternoon Rest.
These are both pretty good CD's, with Pressure being by far more raw.
These solo albums are purely instrumental, though Sokolovsky also appears on the
Soldat Semyonov where he teams up with Russian
poet Arcady Semyonov to play the musical backdrop against his poetry readings (see
Khan's Afternoon Rest might actually be at home in the New Age section of your local music shop (the cover text is all in English), though the music is a bit on the harsh side for New Age. It contains elements of Industrial and Techno, plus interesting sound-sculpting racket alongside more melodic parts. The quality of the recording is excellent, and makes for an enjoyable listening experience. I might even say "trance-inducing", but then again I fall into trance pretty easily. In its way, the music is meditative, though again more raspy than, say, Steve Roach, but along the same lines. You could also dance to it ... well, some parts of it.
Pressure: Music for Rich actually contains a more primitive version of one of the cuts from Khan's Afternoon Rest, titled "Khan's Noon Rest". In addition are other pieces in the techno-ambient vein. There's nothing extraordinary here, but this is a solid release and quite enjoyable. I would recommend Khan over this CD, but both are worth a listen.
This music will be hard to get your hands on ... there are no mainstream distribution channels for this Russian Indie music. But if you e-mail Igor Gorely at the address below, I'm sure he will be able to find a way to get these CD's to you. -- Fred Trafton
[See Soldat Semyonov]
Send e-mail to Igor Gorely of RAIG (Russian Association of Independent (Music) Genres) for ordering information
Concerto Grosso (72), Solar Plexus (73, aka Solar Plexus 2), Det Er Inte Baten, (74), Hellrre Gycklare An Hycklare, (75)
Odd Swedish jazz-rock band that took a very unusual approach to fusion on their second album. Most of their work consists of cover versions, or is somehow adapted to the work of others (like "Spider," which is based on a poem by Norman Mailer!). The original song "Don't Believe" reminds me most of Traffic. Elsewhere are jazzy versions of "Danse Russe" from Stravinsky's "Petrouschka" (not exactly the movement I'd prefer to hear from that, but good anyways), Carole King's "Smackwater Jack" (singer/percussionist Tommy Korberg seems to have ties to the Brill Building songwriters) and a Handel song with English lyrics (most of the lyrics are Swedish, except "Don't Believe," "Silent Worship," "Smackwater Jack" and "Spider"). -- Mike Ohman
[See Made In Sweden]
The Final Solution (90)
World games (92)
The House of S. Phrenia (95, re-released in Brazilian version in 1998)
... in Time (97, re-released in Brazilian version in 1998)
Force Majeure (04)
Solar Project 2007, Chromagnitude line-up - Peter Terhoeven (guitars), Robert Valet
(keyboards), Sandra Baetzel (sax, keys, vocals), Volker Janacek (drums) and Sebastian
Original entry 5/28/02:
Currently, Solar Project consists of the three founders, Volker Janacek on drums, Robert Valet on keyboards and Peter Terhoeven on guitars, supported in the studio as well as live by several local musicians. It's pretty clear from their last two albums, Force Majeure and Chromagnitude, that these folks have heard some Pink Floyd in their lives. In fact, they've contributed songs to several Floyd tribute albums, including a 23-minute rendition of "Echoes" on More Relics. However, for their own albums, they have certainly branched out well beyond being simple Floyd clones, and have created some fine music they can call their own, with some (OK, a lot of) affectionate stylistic homages to the old masters figuring heavily into the mix.
The album cover of Force Majeure baffled me a little at first ... a six-fingered hand makes a bloody imprint against a white and gray backdrop with the band name and album name. Then, I realized that the last studio album was named Five, and the meaning becomes obvious. Add to that two hands on the CD silkscreen art itself forming a V with one hand and a I with the other, and you know this is their sixth album. Given this, you have to wonder if the seven songs on Chromagnitude ("Gray", "Green", "Red", "Black", "Blue", "Yellow" and "White") is an accident or a reference to being their seventh album. And, it's released in 2007 too. (OK, I know I'm reaching now. But these prog bands can be pretty tricky in their symbolism. But the 2007 thing is probably just an accident.)
Force Majeure is an overall excellent album marred only by the introductory song "Days of Wrath", a song with in-your-face christian lyrics sung to a composition that is utterly unlike anything else on the album, sort of a disco metal thing. To tell the truth, this first song turned me off so much, I didn't listen to the rest of the album until after I had heard Chromagnitude, which made me say, "Wait ... is this even the same band?" I forced myself to listen after the first song, and ... surprise ... the rest of the album is really great! The remaing songs are in the Floyd style of space rock with some parts that are reminiscent of Hawkwind or even Gong, including a Gilli Smyth like vocal on one song, though usually vocalist Bettina Wirtz sounds nothing like that. Though her vocals aren't bad, they're probably the weakest part of the album, not because she's a bad vocalist, but because her style doesn't seem to blend well with the Floyd vibe. And, truth to tell, her accent is odd enough that I find it to be distracting. I guess I expect to hear something a bit more smooth, and with an English accent. But still, this is a great album if you just skip the first song. The guitar work from Peter Terhoeven is so Gilmouresque you may really think you're listening to a Floyd album, especially when Robert Valet's keys and Sandra "Jade" Baetzel's sax are also so spot-on Floydian. Yet, there are also sections of classical guitar or chromatic keyboards and Mellotron parts that you'll never hear on a Floyd album, so they do show off other musical facets and aren't just Floyd clones. But it's pretty obvious where their main inspiration comes from.
Chromagnitude is everything you could want from a Floyd album ... languid guitar solos over a background of organ and string synths, jazzy female backup vocals asking questions that are answered by the lead singer, and a nice spacey texture. But it's also fixed everything you hate about Floyd ... the lyrics don't make you want to commit suicide (and they're not about Roger Waters' personal issues or his dead father), plus the guitars branch out from David Gilmour's blues style into more metallic regions, and the keyboard work (especially the organ) is far more varied than Rick Wright's, with fast arpeggios and even some Mellotron in a couple of places. Several of the songs on Chromagnitude have quite memorable melodies, and have already lodged themselves in my head like Floyd tunes. If only a band like Solar Project could be heard enough to break through to mainstream airplay, several of these songs would become classics like Dark Side of the Moon material. In the '70's or early '80's, they might have had a chance to hit it big. Alas, in 2007 that will probably never happen, but those of us who are in the know can enjoy them for years to come. A great album, and highly recommended for those who (like me) are "in the grip of Floydian dogma" as one GEPR Floyd reviewer put it. My only complaint is the song titles ... how am I ever going to remember which song is "Black" and which one's "Green"? Whatever ... set the controls for the heart of the Solar Project and give both of these albums a try. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for the Solar Project web site
Click here to read Vitaly Menshikov's review of Five in its entirety
Click here to order any album except The Final Solution from Musea Records
Rockhullám (Rockwave) (80, Single?)
Éden/Ellenpont (Eden/Counterpoint) (81, Single)
Marsbéli Krónikák (The Martian Chronicles) (84)
Live In Los Angeles (96)
Nostradamus, Próféciák könyve (Nostradamus, The Book Of Prophecies)(99)
Back to the Roots ... (00, Live "official bootleg" from 1980)
Solaris (reunion line-up, 1990) - Atilla Kollár (flute), Csaba Bogdán
(guitar), Gábor Kisszabó (bass), Tamás Pócs (bass),
Róbert Erdész (keyboards), István Cziglán (guitars),
László Gömör (drums)
Their first album Marsbeli Kronikak or the "Martian Chronicles" is an album with quite a reputation, Solaris deliver a heavily symphonic rock with lots of great guitar and flute and real drums unlike the electronic ones on their second one, Solaris 1990.
|Excellent instrumental band from Hungary. Their music contains elements of Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons and Jethro Tull. They have two releases to date, both excellent! Their first release The Martian Chronicles is an ultra classic, and an absolute must for any prog rock collection.|
|Highly recommended. Flutes, keyboards, guitar, drums in that order of prominence. No vocals, unless you count the squeaking of the Martians on their first album. Until I heard this group, I didn't think I could like any group that was entirely instrumental. Beware: 1990 was released as a double LP, but side 3 was cut when the album was tansferred to a single CD. Both albums are great. I've since caught on to many other instrumental bands, but few of those can touch Solaris.|
|Solaris is a recent Hungarian band that I know next to nothing about. There are extensive liner notes with the Marsbeli Kronikak CD but they are written in Japanese. Solaris 1990, a more guitar dominated album than the former release. On Marsbeli Kronikak, the six part title suite, "The Martian Chronicles," is over 20 minutes long and will appeal to any fan of Pink Floyd and Richard Wright circa Wish You Were Here. This epic is the album's showcase. Parts 1-3 of the suite state the theme and the flute, guitar, and keyboards take turns developing it. Though continuously developing, I never had the impression the music dragged on too long. By the fourth part, the band is cooking with wonderful interplay between flute, guitar, and some really nice synth. None of the players are particularly outstanding musicians but together they create a breathtaking, spatial atmosphere where flute and synthesizer go on forever. Though the rest of the songs are shorter, they all sound to me to be variations on the main theme which gives a cohesive feel to the album. The Martian Chronicles isn't for everyone here, but I think many of you would enjoy it. The rest of the album is quite listenable if not always equal to "The Martian Chronicles." I've tried turning two friends onto Solaris. One attempt was very successful and the other was a flop. If you listen only for excellent musicianship, then forget this album. When I'm in that mood, I don't listen to this album, either. But I often find "The Martian Chronicles" suite very exhilarating and am sure many of you would, too. -- Mike Taylor|
|Solaris' sound tends to blend metallic rock theatrics with a heavy electronic influence, bright melodies, powerful dynamics and pyrotechnic guitar and keyboard outbursts. Flute plays an important part in their melodic statement, also the influence of classical music and eastern European folk themes; There are no convenient comparisons here, but there are some paralells with Jethro Tull, Focus, Horslips and others. Both albums are outstanding.|
|Solaris 1990 is a brilliant CD of prime progressive rock driven by keyboards and punctuated by very proficient flute leads. These guys have taken a leaf out of the books of Camel, ELP and the like, and have added orchestral backing on some tracks to create a 70-minute masterpiece.|
|I'll say it again, I love these guys! Great instrumental prog-rock. Should appeal to fans of Jethro Tull and Camel. Definitely worth the expense.|
The band Solaris was formed in 1980 by some university and college
students: István Cziglán (guitars), Róbert Erdész
Kollár (flute), Attila Seres (bass), Vilmos Tóth (drums). This formation
has only one recording, the song "Solaris" which appeared on Rockhullám (I
don't if this is a single, album or a Hungarian rock collection) and
later on the Marsbéli krónikák. In the next year Attila Seres
Tóth left the band and they were replaced by Gábor Kisszabó on
Ferenc Raus on drums and came another guitarist, Csaba Bogdán. This new
formation released another single and had about 10 radio recordings.
Then came some other changes in membership the band remained: István
Cziglán on guitars, Róbert Erdész on keyboards,
László Gömör on drums,
Tamás Pócs on bass and Attila Kollár on flute.
This formation recorded
and released The Martian Chronicles, had a lot of concerts and was
broken up because the one and only Hungarian recording company wasn't
interested in progressive rock.
Some of the members formed the popular group Napoleon Boulevard (or
Napoleon Bld.), a popular band which played pop music, not a very bad
one, but pop. Seeing their succes (over 1 million LP-s sold in three
years) THE recording company invited them to make another Solaris LP. A
part of the contract was the releasing of the old materials. This was
Solaris 1990, a double LP which appeared later on a single CD without
the B side of the second disc. Later, the whole material appeared on a
double CD with two bonus tracks included.
Then came another long silence, the band's existence practically came to
an end, the members joined other formations, when they received an
invitation to the Progfest in L.A. The material of this concert appeared
in their Live in Los Angeles album. This concert was followed by another
at the Rio Art Rock Festival, The Martian Chronicles was released in
Japan and these gave the band the courage to make a new album:
Nostradamus (without László Cziglán who died meanwhile).
Solaris' music is a bit "lumpy" with an instrumentation what remindes me to the early heavy metal bands. Something like Barclay James Harvest, but more aggressive guitar and drum playing. The band uses many instruments, but not in an orchestra-like way. Every instrument is accentuated, has it's own "personality", without suppressing each other, altogether the music sounds good. It has an electric sound, like ELP or Tangerine Dream. The drums give a strong rhythmical base, with a low-key bass what the guitar, keyboards and flute are doing their job on, with much fantasy. Overall, it's a good music with a powerful and quite unique sound. -- Bálint Ákos
[See Cziglán, István |
Click here for Solaris' web site
The Plan Of Saving Konstantinople (96)
Don't Step Back! (97)
The Powerfields Of Silence (98)
Parallel Actions (00)
Russian poet Arcady Semyonov is Soldat Semyonov. These albums are actually readings
of his "geo-political provocations" against the backdrop of
Ivan Sokolovsky's techno rhythms and sound
effects. In effect, this is the Russian equivalent of Rap or maybe '50's Beat
poetry. So why in the world is it in the GEPR?
Well, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Sokolovsky's musical backdrops are quite interesting from a prog standpoint. Much more so than the sampled remixes of hit tunes you'll hear in Rap. And, to my ears at least, the vocals being spoken/yelled in Russian sounds quite exotic, not unlike listening to Magma spouting off in Kobaïan. Of course, I can't understand a word he's saying, so naturally it's going to sound pretty exotic to me. And maybe to you. On the other hand, my lack of comprehension just makes Semyonov's voice into another instrument, and also allows me to hear Sokolovsky's contributions better, which I wouldn't if I was listening to the meaning of the lyrics.
For what it's worth, I correspond with several Russian-speaking Prog fans, and they find this kind of music to be atrocious. One calls it "vulgar" (by which he means "common") and another said that the popularity of this sort of music in Russia is "unfortunate". So I don't know what you'll think. I found one listening to each album The Plan Of Saving Konstantinople and Parallel Actions to be enjoyable, but they won't exactly be staying on my top-10 playlist. Or even my top-1000. I can't say I could tell much difference between the two albums, either, it all starts sounding the same after awhile. Still, if you get a chance to broaden your horizons for an hour or so, pick one album and give it a listen.
This music will be hard to get your hands on ... there are no mainstream distribution channels for this Russian Indie music. But if you e-mail Igor Gorely at the address below, I'm sure he will be able to find a way to get these CD's to you. -- Fred Trafton
Editor's note: Mr. Taranin translates
the album title Parallel Actions as Parallel Activities because
he doesn't believe the possible military connotation of "Parallel Actions"
should be there. On the meaning of "mosh", he says: "The 'mosh' music is
something like the lower class pop, a quite cynical approach on music, mostly
based on accomodation to the greater masses. I heard this term very often from
various people, but I don't really know where it is from. I simply decided to
use this word". Perhaps this has something to do with
mosh pits. I've
also replaced a few of his words with what I though he really meant in [brackets].
The Parallel Activities album is good. The clichés, common to [popular] Russian music are completely missing. Not a bit of the "mosh" virus, which infected most of the quite original underground bands, neither [pandering] to the taste of the common listener nor commercial objectives. It is nonsense, at my point of view, to try to investigate the musical development of the composer Ivan Sokolovsky, - the age of the "International Jazz" has approached - the important thing is genuine originality and harmony across with the melody, the inner connections between the lyric and the music. This project is a meeting of two equally creative personalities, who just do what they want, without pressure from the outside world and without sharing their ideas with producers, keeping their originality instead of following trends.
Arkady Semyonov's poetry isn't overloaded with complex contents, though the listener should have reached a certain cultural level to receive the messages and the pure aesthetic pleasure. The Leitmotiv of this album is the tree, the symbol of life and vital powers, it lets "the sun spin around its axis" and grows patiently accepting all the weather, magnetic storms, eclipses and cataclysms. The trees just are.
The philosophical tone of the album does not affect the energy and the dynamic. The life is also there with every of her temporal aspects. [Quoting from the lyrics:] "The one who'll reach the finish will be the first, but one cannot ask for the burial mask beforehand". -- Ivan Taranin
[See Sokolovsky, Ivan]
Send e-mail to Igor Gorely of RAIG (Russian Association of Independent (Music) Genres) for ordering information
Solid Gold Cadillac (72), Brain Damage (73)
fusion. See Mirage.
Silent Dance (84)
New Life (93)
Pathways (98, Compilation)
The Cropredy Set (98, Live)
|Solstice was a prominent band in the early '80s UK progressive revival, but never had many commercial interests, instead opting only to play live. Their only album from that period was released privately in extremely limited quantity. Their sound could be described easiest in terms of comparisons: Imagine the folk-classical stylings of the first album by It's A Beautiful Day (complete with ripping violin), inject it with more symphonics, and add to that a female vocalist that sounds like Jon Anderson: this fairly accurately describes the sound on the first album. The production and recording quality of the original LP was fairly substandard and the CD transfer improves on this only a little; still the performance shines. By the end of the '80s some personell changes had occurred, including the singer. The new album features a much stronger vocalist, and a more powerful overall style, with more emphasis on the guitar and violin, and moves into a more fusion oriented direction.|
|Solstice is a UK band fronted by the vocals of Sandy Leigh, whose music is quite fairly in the neo-progressive vein. Silent Dance was recorded in 1984, and reflects the style of that era, including bands such as IQ and Twelfth Night. Interestingly enough, Ms. Leigh's voice is a trifle low, when compared with female lead vocalists such as Annie Haslam, which results in a style and pitch that recalls Jon Anderson!|
|I'm not impressed by my initial listens to Silent Dance. A cross between Renaissance and Marillion, I can't decide whether this is bad prog or good neo-prog. A five piece British effort, Solstice features the vocals and orchestration of a band that wants to sound like Renaissance, and a rhythm section that, "fits the music well" (i.e., they aren't very good). Ok, now that I've got that out of my system, let's try again. Solstice isn't half bad if you're not looking for a particularly virtuostic band. The songs are too poppish for me, but I could see how many progressive rock fans would like this band. So far I don't, but don't let that dissuade you. There is some quality music on this disc, but the accessibility of it makes all my warning bells go off. Female lead vocals, spacey synths and a...well...plodding rhythm section, sum up Solstice. If you are a neo-prog fan, you'll probably like this. If you prefer the more avant garde progressive rock, don't bother.|
|Not to be confused with the UK doom-metal group Solstice who have released albums such as Lamentations and New Dark Age. -- Kai Karmanheimo|
|Links||[See Double Helix]|
Cordon Bleu (75)
Fully Interlocking (77)
It's Only Just Beginning (80)
|This band should be considered an essential of the Dutch progressive scene. Blending elements of experimental Soft Machine, the lyricism of Italian progressive, and their own vision, Solution have created a unique sound that is hard to classify. Flute, sax, organ, and guitar are used to spin a musical web of ideas that catches anything that flies near, yet remains squarely within the sounds typical of bands from the Netherlands and Norway.|
Daemon Ex Machina (03)
Solution Science Systems - Robert MacGrogan (String Theory, Phonotonic Transformation),
Andy Tegethoff (Low-Frequency Oscillations, Synethesioloy), Kelly Shane (Rhythmic
At Solution Science Systems, they create tomorrow's dreams today! Well, that's what they claim on their 1950's industrial propaganda / pseudo-science worship site. Fans of The Tesla Society should be thrilled. But what they're really creating isn't pseudo science ("Solution Scientists have discovered that under the Earth's hard crust is a delicious chewy center". Whatever.), it's prog rock.
Although it's taken them a bit longer than they thought to get their debut album off the presses, the final result has been worth the wait. In my original entry, I said "it's really a mix of prog rock and new-wavy pop", based only on the cuts at the now-defunct MP3.com. With the release of the full album, I'd say that was a misconception caused by the fact that the first song I heard, "ETP" (now explained to be "Electrotrombonophone") sounds a heck of a lot like The Cars, but it's the only cut that does. The rest of it is an incredible mishmash of prog with more mainstream wierdness. At various points in the album, I'm reminded of Devo, Hawkwind, The Allman Brothers, Rush played through a Zappa modulator, The B-52's, Yes (one of the cuts is subtitled: "The Revealing Solution Science of God"), League of Gentlemen-era Fripp, Kraftwerk, and even Firesign Theater for gawd's sake! And even with all this, they manage to make it come across as a concept album with the songs all closely related and sounding like Solution Science Systems instead of someone else. You gotta hear it to believe it. And even with all the silliness, you have to also say: hey, these guys can play!
Oh, about that concept. It's "a tale told by an idiot box, full of round and furry signifying monkey: A Simian's Lament". Fazmot is a talking monkey from a parallel universe, or maybe from our future. He's not sure. He just knows that our messing around with quantum physics has destroyed his part of the universe, and he wants us to stop it already! He's interrupting our television broadcasts to let us know about this. Or something. Whatever, it's a wonderful jab at pseudo-science, science fiction and science fact all at once. This is Solution Science Systems, where you can't tell what's real from what's printed in the Enquirer Science section. Great science. Great music. Great talking monkeys. What more do you want from an album? Order it now! It's creating tomorrow's dreams today. Q: Are we not Men? A: We are Solution Science Systems. -- Fred Trafton
[See Enemy From Space]
Click here for the Solution Science Systems web site
Dreamtime (95, Recorded in 1992)
|Ozric Tentacles-styled psych band, said to be excellent. Not to be confused with the mediocre Allan Holdsworth project of the same name.|
|2nd album of Soma called Dreamtime recorded in 1992 but released later, in 1995. It is more progressive than the first one. Also the singer had been replaced by a new one. -- Emrah Yucelen|
In Strum Mental (02)
Sombre Reptile 2002 - (not in photo order) Michel Dedieu (guitars), Jean-Paul
Dedieu (synthesizers, synth percussion), Pim Focken (percussion)
Start with a solid base of early '80's electro-pop dance music a' la Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark or Ultravox, strip away the vocals, and add instead progressive guitar work, synthesizer solos and percussion (mostly hand drums) in addition to the drum machines, and you've got a pretty good idea of what Sombre Reptile's debut CD sounds like.
Those of you who've been around the block a few times in the prog world will recognize "Sombre Reptiles" as a song on Eno's Another Green World album, with Robert Fripp guesting on guitar, though the band name is singular rather than plural. This album has some similarity to AGW, though the tunes here are more dancable in an OMD sort of way. Hopefully you won't take that as a negative, because this is a pretty good album, but it is noticably similar to that early sequenced synthesizer / drum machine dance music. However, the guitar and synth solos here would never be dared on one of those dance albums (if the players back then even had the technical capability of playing this sort of thing), and the percussionist playing along with the drum machines gives the mechanical predictability a foil against which to become more interesting.
I wouldn't say this CD will take the prog world by storm, but it's not a bad release, and worthy of your attention. If you like the electronic end of the progressive spectrum, give it a try. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for the Sombre Reptile
Click here to order In Strum Mental from Musea Records
Songs Between Cities and Waterholes (92)
|Seemingly "only" a project of Lars "Lach'n" Jonsson, this time with Chris Cutler, Sten Sandell and Niklas Billstrom, the later being one of Bauta recording engineers. Four tracks of which one could be easily ascribed to certain member of the project. This seems to be made of left over material for Sounds From the Cities of Decay by Lach'n and Music From a Waterhole by Sandell. One song by Lach'n, two by Sandell and one remake of 13th century trouvere song, sounding like a cross between sounds of both two maestros. Besides that three tracks are recorded live with superb sound. For my money important additive to Bauta collection and something one should get after he has put down Lach'n's solo output and Sandell's Waterhole. -- Nenad Kobal|
|Links||[See Henry Cow | Jonsson, Lach'n (Lars) | Sandell, Sten]|
The Prisoner (05)
Larry Benigno of Sonic Music - (He said to use the album cover for his picture!)
Sonic Music is the "band name" used by Larry Benigno for his solo work. He was previously in a couple of other progressive rock bands, one called Transporter about which nothing is known (Larry doesn't seem to want to talk about it), and Radio Piece III. He's also played in a lot of bands that weren't progressive. But Sonic Music's The Prisoner is the debut progressive solo album from Larry Benigno.
It's pretty clear who's influenced Benigno, at least for this album. His vocal timbre and style is quite reminiscent of Phil Collins, and the music is upbeat, synthesizer-heavy music. I'm reminded frequently of Starcastle and Synergy, but with more fusiony chord progressions, snakey fretless bass parts and outbursts of Zappa-like mallet percussion "gnat notes" (probably synths rather than true mallet percussion, though). Benigno plays all the instruments himself (aside from a guitar solo in "I Know You Love Me") except for the drums which are evidently (but not too distractingly) sequenced. A real drummer would have served the music better, but as a home composer myself, I know how difficult it can be to find a drummer willing or able to play compositions like this, not to mention recording them properly.
Benigno's lyrics are a strange mix. Personally, I find "Johnny Waffle", which I interpret as his comment on the 2004 presidential election, to be quite annoying, since I found the "Kerry's a waffler" accusations to be about on the same intellectual level as "Kerry's a poopy head". But, in another lyric, he says he knows he can be a jerk who thinks he's always right, but "I Know You Love Me". And, in this he's correct. Because the music's so cool that I have to forgive the lyrics that annoy me and just enjoy the album anyway. And how can you stay mad at a guy who dedicates a song to the memory of Robert Moog and then makes it sound like Larry Fast? A very good album, and highly recommended! No waffling here. Except about the drums. I think. Can I get back to you? -- Fred Trafton
[See Radio Piece III]
Click here for Sonic Music's web site
Playing the Universe (02)
Out of Place (05)
Out of Place is the second album by the Portuguese project, Sonic Pulsar, which was formerly a duo of [Hugo] Flores and [Carlos] Mateus. Their debut outing, Playing the Universe, was released [in 2002]. The newcomer, Nuno Ferreira, is an excellent, truly professional bass player, well matching with the project's founding members, whose mastery, by the way, has notably matured since their debut effort. Out of Place is a major step forward in comparison with Playing the Universe. The positive changes touched every aspect of Sonic Pulsar's creation - the composition, the arrangement, the technical skill of each of the musicians, their joint performance, the sound quality et al. Gone is the huge resemblance between them and Eloy, and only two songs here: the title track and "Moving Engines" (both representing modern Space Rock at times bordering on Space Metal) contain some traces of influences of the band's benefactor. There are no really weak tracks on this album, though two of them: the affirmative ballad, "Always Knew", and the plain spacey music instrumental, "Ghosts of the Lost Planes", sound both rather trivial and traditional, especially in comparison with the others, the aforementioned two included. The CD is too long in general, so their inclusion was unnecessary in my view. All of the other, still unnamed, seven compositions (and they run 55 minutes) are excellent, full of original decisions and innovative ideas. Another short instrumental piece, "Intro", is both coherent and eventful enough to be regarded as a full-fledged composition and is an apt intro to the following track, done in the same style, Space Metal with distinct symphonic tendencies, which, in turn, is the album's primary style. It's spread on the five longest tracks on the album: "Schizophrenic Playground", "I Heard of a Place Called Earth", "Solitary Star", "Time Has Been Broken" and "Instrumental", ranging from 7 (the latter two) to 10 minutes (the first three). The first and the last of them are instrumental compositions, distinguishing from the other three by almost exclusively fast and intense maneuvers and a very dense sound (I'd say it's like a wall of sound). There is no lack of large-scaled instrumental arrangements on the songs either, and they are also richer in separately developing soft symphonic passages, provided mainly by piano and string ensemble. The remaining composition: "Burning Inside Me" is almost free of keyboard patterns. This is Space Metal in pure form, though musically, it's as diverse, complex and mesmerizing as the previously described tracks, i.e. most of the material. Quite simply, Out of Place by Sonic Pulsar is one of the best Space Metal works I've ever heard. Highly recommended. -- Vitaly Menshikov
|Links||Click here for Sonic Pulsar's web site|
Snapshots from Limbo (00)
Spiritual Vertigo (03)
Digging for Zeros (05)
Sonus Umbra live at ROSFest 2004 - Ricardo Gomez, Andy Tillotson, Jeff Laramee, Lisa Francis,
Luis Nasser, Andres Aullet and Pablo Garcia
Out of the ashes of Mexican proggers Radio Silence comes Sonus Umbra and their first CD release entitled Snapshots from Limbo. Led by Luis Nasser, who also provides bass duties for Kurgan's Bane, this band now based within Baltimore's thriving progressive rock community, create a classic symphonic prog sound that is at times dark and brooding then moving into more acoustic, uplifting, folk influenced territory. The acoustic guitars and chimes ring, and the double tracked vocals all provide a soft bed of musical tones. In fact the whole CD seems to revolve around an acoustic feel, either guitar or piano, with electric guitars and electronic keyboards arriving at intervals to propel pieces into the more aggressive areas.
The compositions come mostly from the hand of Nasser and are all mid-length, with three just under eight minutes and the finale "Insects" clocking in at just over 12 minutes. Nasser provides bass, keyboards, acoustic guitars and vocals and while he is the driving force, Sonus Umbra also consists of Andre Auliet (vocals, keyboards), Ricardo Gomez (guitars), and from Kurgan's Bane Jeff Laramee (drums). The band has added assistance from Lisa Francis (vocals) [also from Kurgan's Bane - Ed.], John Grant (guitars) and Tapabrata Pal (Tabla).
Even though Sonus Umbra now lives over 2000 miles away from their original home of Mexico City, the musical cultural influences are still very evident in the compositional style as well as in the playing, particularly the acoustic guitar and percussion. The beautiful guitar picking rather than simply strumming is most enjoyable and the ethnic influences are much appreciated. Overall the material is very balanced between acoustic and harder edged guitar pieces. Interesting sound effects are interspersed in the compositions to provide tiny thought bridges between the pieces, adding an element of complexity to the material and disguising where one tracks ends and another begins. Hence for much of the CD you have a seamless flow of music. The vocal style is reminiscent of the moody side of Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour, lending an almost melancholy feel to some of the pieces.
For me Sonus Umbra's Snapshots from Limbo was a pleasant surprise. It never left my player for weeks. I really appreciated the overall acoustic feel. It was almost organic and made the electric moments stand out for emphasis, sort of like the walnuts in a fudge brownie. Hey I know it's a corny analogy, but it works. Like my art teacher used to say ... it's all about contrast and texture and this CD is full of that. A wonderful listening experience from start to finish. If you enjoy prog from South America with a traditional flavor, you'll enjoy this.
[In 2003] Sonus Umbra returned with their sophomore release entitled Spiritual Vertigo picking up where their first CD left off. This Baltimore based outfit continues to thrive in the lively prog community that has developed in the area. For their second release the musical style continues to dwell in a Pink Floyd influenced symphonic rock style.
Once again, music and lyrics come from the hand of Luis Nasser and run anywhere from a short 3:31 to a lengthier 10:58. A few of the tracks are linked together giving the impression of longer pieces and one, "Amnesia Junkies" is split into two parts. As on their first outing, Nasser handles bass, keyboards and guitars and has the assistance of Andres Auliet (vocals), Ricardo Gomez (guitars) and Jeff Laramee (drums). Special guest on Spiritual Vertigo include Lisa Francis (vocals) and John Grant (guitars).
Musically the compositions make use of a dominant acoustic guitar, it continues to have a nice ring but more sonically obvious this time around is a more vibrant, and as the liner, notes indicate "crunchy" electric guitar as well. Even more distinct is the obvious bass-line running through the entire CD. Keyboards while present on Spiritual Vertigo play a supporting role helping to create a solid foundation of atmosphere.
Lyrically Sonus Umbra occupies what could be termed a thought-provoking, left-of-centre tone. Subject matter runs the gamut from globalization and American politics to the current political issues in the Middle East. The vocals are delivered in that same melancholy breathy style that will certainly remind you of Pink Floyd, but they are now enveloped in music that has forged its own timbres making it a uniquely Sonus Umbra sound.
Compositionally the music created by Sonus Umbra on Spiritual Vertigo while not overly complex is still rather varied. Most of the material tends to be mid-tempo with subtle shifts in mood complimented by subdued sound effects. Some interesting, memorable musical themes are developed along the way including in the 7-minute instrumental entitled "Fascinoma" that's filled with atmospheric sound effects. The last track, the 11-minute "Snakes and Ladders" is a great one going through a number thematic changes before moving into a end section that moves along quite quickly building in intensity until its climactic, hair raising tubular bells conclusion. It is a very dramatic ending to a very satisfying CD.
Spiritual Vertigo represents a solid development in the sound and direction of Sonus Umbra. There is still an underlying Pink Floyd homage but it is nothing more than that. The influence has now been fully realized and is served up on a well-executed disc. -- Jerry Lucky
Digging for Zeros is the third album by the Mexicano American band Sonus Umbra.
Some changes have touched the group's personnel, which was stable until now. Original vocalist
Andres Aullet has quit. Jeff Laramee appears now as drummer and lead singer
rolled into one. Female singer Lisa Francis has become a staff member. In addition,
there are two novices in the lineup (which, thus, has transformed from a quartet into a sextet):
Pablo Garcia on keyboards and Andy Tillotson, who now shares the duties of lead
guitar player with Ricardo Gomez. As ever, bassist / multi-instrumentalist Luis
Nasser has penned most of the music and lyrics for the new album, too.
[Digging for Zeros] is one more concept suite-like album, with no pauses between its 20 tracks. Stylistically, there are not many differences between Digging for Zeros and Sonus Umbra's previous two output, but nevertheless, Snapshot from Limbo and A Spiritual Vertigo have more common ground between themselves than with the new album. While bass, electric and acoustic guitars still retain their lead positions in the arrangements, as ever, the overall sound has acquired a more pronounced symphonic sense, which is certainly due to the appearance of a free keyboardist. But since Garcia gives more preference to piano than to synthesizers, the trademark Sonus Umbra sound, representing a well-balanced combination of beauty and intricacy with an amazing sense of fragility, remains prevalent and is especially striking in the sections built without the use of big guns, e.g. guitar riffs and harsh textures in general. The acoustic guitar and piano-laden "Sleepwalkers", "Children of Cain" (both with Lisa behind the microphone), "Meme Puppet Waltz" and "Infinity", the latter two being instrumental pieces, are fully devoid of heaviness, referring to the purely Art-Rock sector of the band's overall style. "The Great Fall Inwards", "Bloodstains in Paradise The Music of the Primes" and "Pariah", sung either by Lisa alone or together with Jeff (on the latter two), are structurally similar, but there also are distinct elements of heavy Prog in places. Still, Lisa's "The Laughter of the Dead" and "Dead Numbers" are mainly intense, the music moving back and forth between symphonic Art-Rock and Cathedral Metal. Some episodes of that very fragile beauty can also be found on each of the remaining five tracks belonging to Sonus Umbra's traditional stylistic spectrum. Overall however, these ("Scream", "Invisible World", "Infestation", "Spleen" and "Aleph") are the heaviest tracks on the album. Sung by Jeff, they reveal the most aggressive intonations of his pretty flexible vocals. Four more tracks still need to be described: "Devil's Promise", "Zero", "Serial Grounds" and "Foreshadows", the latter three being instrumentals. The music is very atypical for Sonus Umbra and is either Space Rock resembling The Alan Parsons Project, as on the first two, or just space music, "Foreshadows" consisting mainly of various naturalistic effects (steps, beating the glass, etc) and people's voices.
From album to album, Sonus Umbra slowly, yet, steadily improves the quality of their musical production, and I am certain that their latest is their best effort to date. Highly recommended. If the two space music-related instrumental sketches weren't included in the CD, I would have rated it as a complete masterpiece, with the addition of an exclamation mark. -- Vitaly Menshikov
News: (quote is from the Sonus Umbra web site, 1/26/07)
"This summer has seen many changes for the band. Luis Nasser, "Gordo" for those who know him well, and his family have moved to greener pastures in Chicago, leaving Maryland behind. Another member of the band that has left Maryland is Andy Tillotson, who also moved to Chicago. Don't be surprised if you happen to see them playing together at a venue in the Windy Town one of these days." I assume this means Sonus Umbra is defunct in its present configuration, though the band is not saying so at this time. -- Fred Trafton
[See Kurgan's Bane]
Suspiro (76), Jenny Sorrenti (79)
Ex Saint Just. Sister of Alan Sorrenti.
[See Saint Just]
Intergalactic Radio Station (01)
The Soundchaser Project - Soren Lemche and Renato Menezes
If your thing is really serious big epic prog, then Intergalactic Radio Station isn't going to be that impressive to you. However, if you're not ashamed to enjoy hearing a couple of talented dudes having a great time with their synthesizers in their home studio (at least I assume it's their home studio), then try this one out. And, yes, the band's name is from the song on the Yes album Relayer.
This CD reminds me a lot two other famous synth-duos, namely Tonto's Expanding Head Band (but better produced than them) and The Moog Cookbook (but not as tongue-in-cheek silly as them). The music here is also spacier than either of them. "Outer Space Lounge Jazz" isn't too far off. Actually, this CD sounds pretty professional, but the synthesizer sounds chosen are not the "slick" realistic ones. Synthesists Renato Menezes and Soren Lemche are obviously quite happy to sound synthetic. The sounds are mostly analog synths and some samplers, though there is also some guitar synth. Most of the pieces start or end with blasts of synthesizer bleeps and swooshes in the best overdone '70's tradition. There's also clichès like Worf of Star Trek fame intoning about Romulans and transporters while the synthesizers whirr. Hmm ... I wonder if Paramount knows about this?
This recording is really a set of synth "jam sessions" with extended solos over sequenced chord progressions. But since the players are pretty good, and the background sequences are well thought out (especially nice drum programming), this is really a lot of fun to listen to. It would be even more fun if I brought my keyboard along to join the jam. Hopefully you get the idea of what Intergalactic Radio Station is like. Recommended if you like that sort of thing. Not recommended if you're too serious about your prog. Now, where did I put my Sequential Circuits Pro-1 ... and a dust cloth ... ? -- Fred Trafton
|This first offering from the Brazilian duo Soundchaser, "Intergalactic Radio Station",is an interesting and creative blend of progressive rock, electronic, and even funk/fusion. They cite Pink Floyd, Weather Report, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream among their influences and while you can easily hear where they're "coming from", they mostly manage to fashion a sound that's wholly their own. Forced to pin it down, this CD could be described as "progressive / electronic", with fusion overtones. But Soundchaser's music deserves a much better fate than easy categorization, this album is brimming with great tunes, mostly instrumental with voice overs, and it's all done with a joyeous abandon that gives the listener a sense of pleasure, because you sense that that's the spirit in which the music was made. I've grown used to playing it in the morning, and it always gives me a bounce in my step on my way to work. I recommend this to anyone into progressive rock or electronic music, and Soundchaser is definitely an act to watch out for. -- Kjell Kristiansen|
The astronaut had been floating thru the infinite vacuum for a few hours
now, and his dwindling oxygen supply was becoming perilously close to
non-existent, as was his own life force. He had made vain attempts at taking
his mind off of his situation: counting the vast field of stars; observing
and noting to himself the myriad galaxies and nebulae around him;
attempting weightless gymnastics. Nothing seemed to help, though. His
delirious mind eventually wandered back to his predicament and his weary
eyes stared down at the oxygen monitor inside of his helmet, which now
registered at just over a quarter full.
His dilemma was the product of a freak explosion aboard the exploratory ship Odysseus, that was on a mission of ETI discovery to the planet Eryx. The astronaut was able to suit up and escape the soon-to-be destroyed craft thru one of the air hatches. He had hoped one of his fellow explorers was able to do the same with an EEP (Emergency Escape Pod), but so far it appeared that such was not the case. So oxygen depletion was a better way to die, he mused – than to be blown to bits and scattered all across the galaxy? "One star", he said to himself. "Two stars, three stars, four ..."
Then something came over the communications headset. At first it was just crackle and static, and then, by heavens – music! Music? Way the hell out here on the rim of the galaxy? And then a voice was heard, welcoming him to the Intergalactic Radio Station, and that you will now be hearing the music of Soundchaser, two men from that far away land of Brazil (Renato Menezes on guitar and synthesizer and Soren Lemche doing voice and keyboards). Wait a minute, he thought, could this be Major Tom pulling a fast one on him? Even though he was his CO (and a damn good one, at that!), he also was known for his wicked sense of humour and loved to play practical jokes. During a time like this, though? The astronaut employed some of the rotational moves he had learnt in the last few hours to see if he could locate any sign of an EEP or another astronaut. No such luck, he was still alone. Chalk whatever he was hearing up to depletion of oxygen to his rapidly deteriorating brain cells, he speculated. "Well, might as well sit back and listen, cos I'm not going anywhere!" So it was, and as each new selection was played, he critiqued each one to himself, "better than cataloguing nebulae ..."
"Intergalactic Radio Station I" begins the set as a mood-setting instrumental of synthesized sounds, and is a lead in for "Intergalactic Radio Station II", an upbeat tune with spoken lyrics by Soren that serves as an introduction to the set. "One World" begins with the sounds of harp and oriental vocalising before settling into a funky groove. I like this one, and the next – "Neon Pink Glow", which begins with a plucky string arrangement that continues as a theme through out the whole tune, and once again contains spoken lyrics. "Lunarscape" is a three part instrumental epic and undoubtedly the centerpiece of this set, that features the synthesizer and guitar work of Renato. "Lakestorm/Heaven" urges the listener to "be alive" and is a meditative piece of calming rain storm effects and synthesizer solos. "The Nexus" once again transports the listener into deep space and connects up with samples of Star Trek dialogue, most notably from that Klingon security officer, Worf. The set finishes with "Wild Robots", which seems to this listener to evoke a time when there is nothing left but robots who reflect on nothing being left ...
Then the music is gone as the headset goes silent. The astronaut feels the weight of helplessness and finality settle on him once again. But he also feels at piece with himself, the music having put him into a state of relaxed enjoyment. He is prepared now to meet his fate alone.
Suddenly, a light shoots over and past his shoulders. He rotates his body around to see a planet before him, it surface reflected in the light of twin blue suns. Could this be Eryx? How could it be? He was millions of miles away from it when the spaceship had exploded, how had he come to be here? Maybe listening to the music had somehow transported him here. The light that had bathed his backside was not the luminescence of Eryx or of the suns, either. This light was much more concentrated, and its source was headed toward him at an alarming rate of speed. Soon it was almost upon him, but slowed just in time for him to see it was a spaceship of some kind, but certaintly not of earthly origin. Now there was something outside the ship heading toward him. Oh my lord, he finally realized! These must be Eryxians that have come to rescue him. Would they be friendly, and if so, might they have a copy of Soundchaser's Intergalactic Radio Station that he could listen to once again ...? -- Purple Wolfhound
|Links||Click here for The Soundchaser Project's web site|
Rob Thorne's Soundscape:
Grave New World (09, recorded in 1998)
Brad Bansner's Soundscape:
Soundscape in 1998
Rob Thorne's Soundscape:
The main "metal influence" comes from vocalist/keyboardist Rob Thorne's high-pitched, heavily-vibrato'ed vocals (a bit like Geddy Lee's, but not quite that high-pitched), though there are some tasty metal guitar licks to be had from guitarist Todd Rose as well. My first listening to this album gave me the impression it was a prog-metal album, but subsequent listens have made me decide it's really a symphonic prog album that's heavily influenced by prog-metal. If it wasn't my "job" as GEPR editor to split hairs like this, I'd just say, "Screw it, who cares what genre it is? It just rocks!"
There are a few anachronisms here that show the album's age, particularly the "bleepy bloopy" video game sounds that open the album, and some of the now-outdated computer geekery like a line of text which reads:
>END OF LINE.
after the supposedly computery-looking song list on the back sleeve. But I'll forgive them for this, because the music is just excellent. Give them a try. -- Fred Trafton
Brad Bansner of Soundscape
Brad Bansner's Soundscape (originally added 10/31/02):
Rob Thorne's Soundscape:
Click here for Soundscape's MySpace page
Click here for Soundscape information on the AngelThorne web site
Click here to order Discovery from CD Baby
Click here to order Grave New World from CD Baby
Brad Bansner's Soundscape:
Space Art (77), Trip In The Center Head (78), Play Back (79)
Electronic head music.
Fantastic Arrival (79)
Progressive/fusion that is done very well, based on the little that I have heard. It starts out in Return to Forever-style fusion with progressive overtones, then blends into somewhat cosmic-style passage with deep moog, violin, and guitar, turning into progressive with fusion overtones. Guitar player sounds very good. This band sounds like it has some quality musicianship.
Going Home For Eternity (89)
Reissue of early '70s spacy guitar rock.
Maximum Contrast from Moment To Moment (79, 7" EP), Go Commercial (80, 7" EP), Tell White Lies (81, flexi), Have A Lousy Xmas (81, EP), Do Generic Ethnic Muzak Versions Of All Your Favorite Underground Punk/Psychedelic Songs From The Sixties (87), Pink Noise (8?)
[See Birdsongs of the Mesozoic | Family Fun]
|Guitar/synth duo, comparable to early Amon Düül II and Ash Ra Tempel.|
|Spacecraft is Ivan Coaquette (from Musica Elettronica Viva) on guitar and John Livengood (from Red Noise) on keyboards and effects. It sounds somewhere between early Cluster and the more cosmic and ambient side of Ash Ra Tempel, with the guitars phased and heavily processed beyond recognition. They create some wonderful electronic dreamscapes, with a dash of pulsing rhythms, and are recommended for fans of any of the above mentioned bands. -- Rolf Semprebon|
|Links||[See Delired Cameleon Family | Musica Elettronica Viva | Red Noise]|
Spaced Out (00)
Eponymous II (01)
Slow Gin (03)
Live in 2000 (05, Live)
Unstable Matter (06)
Live at the Crescendo Festival (07, Live CD, also available as a DVD)
Spaced Out at NEARfest 2002 (Photo copyright Linda Shulman, 2002)
Unlike what you might be led to believe by the band's name, this is decidedly not space rock, but high-energy fusion. One minute into their debut album, Spaced Out, it becomes obvious that the guitar player is a follower of Allan Holdsworth, which causes the band to strongly resemble the first two Bruford albums. Excellent drums, too, reminding me also a bit of Bill Bruford. The keyboardist is great, though he reminds me more of Chick Corea in Return to Forever than Dave Stewart. And the bassist is much funkier than Jeff Berlin too. Great new music, highly recommended for fusion fans.
Although it wasn't obvious to me from their first album (though in retrospect, it should have been), Eponymous II clearly lets you know that the prime motivator of this band is bassist Antoine Fafard. Fafard introduces himself as "The Prince of Ambiguity" in concerts, and evidently feels his compositions for Spaced Out are not easily categorized. I don't think so at all ... this is very definitely progressive jazz/rock fusion, nothing ambiguous about it at all. Fafard is an incredibly precise and melodic bassist ... Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and Jeff Berlin have nothing on this guy as he slaps, plucks and hammers his way through some of the finest (and fastest!) bass playing I've ever heard. The guitarist still has moments of being a Holdsworth sound-alike, but on this album he seems to have found a less derivative sound. Every player is among the best on his instrument I've ever heard, making this one of the slickest fusion releases in recent memory. The first album was excellent, but the second is about as far from "sophomore slump" as it gets ... it's more mature and smokes even hotter than the original. I don't know what more there is to say other than if you're a fusion fan, this is a must-have album. -- Fred Trafton
Spaced Out has replaced Somnambulist in the NEARFest 2002 line-up!
Spaced Out's third album Slow Gin is quite a departure for this band. If I was to compare them to Bruford once again, if their first two albums were analogous to Feels Good To Me and One Of A Kind, then Slow Gin is their Gradually Going Tornado. Far less fusiony than the previous two albums, but still with plenty of Fafard's intricate bass work. And thankfully, unlike Bill Bruford, the bassist does not sing on this album!
The album ranges from spacey and psychedelic on songs like the 1:05 introduction, "Introx" and the album's closing tunes "Blue Ron Pipe AM" and "... PM" to keyboard-driven space music punctuated by guitar/bass/drum stabs ("Spaced In") and even some pieces of fusion that sound more like their previous work ("Minor Blast"), but with a more metal edge. Scattered throughout the album are lots of references to Philip Glass-type sequences, and it even has a flat-out homage cut, "Glassosphere". For the third album, they were on their second guitarist Louis Côté, who also played on Eponymous II. For this album, (nearly) all references to Allan Holdsworth are missing and the guitar tends to be crunchier and more metallic. Antoine Fafard's bass continues to astound, in spite of being less fusion-oriented.
Bottom line is this: if you're a fusion fan, you may be disappointed by Slow Gin. For myself, I think this is my favorite album by them, being much more "progressive" with more rock and less jazz (I felt the same way about Gradually Going Tornado too, except for Jeff Berlin's vocals). This suits me fine, and I'm looking forward to more from these fine fellows. Who, by the way, are now on their THIRD guitarist, Mark "Emotion" Tremblay. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||Click here for Spaced Out's web site|
Truth In The Eyes Of A Spaceship (98)
Of Cosmic Repercussions (00)
Spaceship Eyes is another Don Falcone project. I've heard only the earliest album, Kamarupa, which also features Gary Parra (Cartoon, PFS, Trap). The music is spacey electronica, a la Tim Blake's solo albums, but with more interesting percussion due to Parra's drums. Probably best absorbed through the pores while under the influence. But that's just a guess. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||[See Cartoon | Falcone, Don | Fireclan | PFS | Quiet Celebration | Spirits Burning | Trap]|
Balance of Power (93)
The Human Element (05)
Balance of Power is Tony Spada's solo effort and is, not surprisingly, of a style very similar to Holding Pattern, of which Spada was the guitarist and driving member. In fact, the supporting cast represent most of a recent formation of Holding Pattern. Tony Castellano provides bass and keyboards, Kirk McKenna plays drums and Jeff Brewer, a Holding Pattern member since 1984, contributes percussion. A few other musicians guest on a few songs. As I already noted, Spada's solo album is not much different in style from Holding Pattern. Eight of the nine songs are entirely instrumental. Only the 12 minute "The Final Act" has vocals by Spada. "Opposite Ways" and "Sun Song" are very engaging tunes, with nice use of both guitar and synth. Spada's style is best summed as equal parts of mid-'70s Genesis, Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra, with a dash of Jimi Hendrix, and twisted around for some semblance of originality. I had a few minor problems with this album, though. Balance of Power suffers from Solo Artist Syndrome. The main focus is Spada's guitar work (in and of itself, that's not bad), with a minor emphasis on keyboards. There is little group interaction, however. The drummer and bassist keep the groove over which Spada solos. They are not integral to the music, other than to keep time with basic cliché rhythmic patterns. It's more than a touch ironic that I bemoan a lack of total group effort because "Sun Song," one of the most melodically engaging tunes on the disc is performed only by Spada and Castellano. Still, across the entire album, the rhythm section is nothing to get hot and bothered about. On the Holding Pattern album, there was often more involvement from drummer and bassist but not always. If you get into Steve Hackett, Camel, Bill Pohl and other melodic Prog, check out both Spada and Holding Pattern. -- Mike Taylor
|In 2005, Tony Spada returned with a second solo album called The Human Element. It's basically a "guitar god" album with loads of progressive content, sounding less like the 1981 Holding Pattern album and more like Dixie Dregs/Steve Morse Band, or even Jeff Beck or Joe Satriani. This is a really good album, but is only an appetizer for the new 2007 Holding Pattern which has everything The Human Element has (including the line-up of musicians) plus some tasty keyboard work too. But it's with The Human Element that Spada returns to the world of prog, and it's most definitely worth a listen. -- Fred Trafton|
[See Holding Pattern]
Click here for the Tony Spada/Holding
Pattern web site
Le Journal du Dormeur (04)
A Sparrow-grass Hunt - Liesbeth Houdijk, Julien Ash and Pierre-Yves Lebeau
I got Le Journal du Dormeur a while back, listened to it once and decided it wasn't doing much for me. It got filed in my "listen to this again later" stack and was sort of lost in the shuffle ... for a few years. I listened to it again recently and I thought, "Man, this sounds just like Nouvelles Lectures Cosmopolites", whom I had just finished reviewing several albums for recently. Then I looked at the credits ... and there's Julien Ash from NLC. No wonder it sounds like them.
Everything I said about NLC goes for this album too. I'm afraid I just don't get it. Maybe if I understood the lyrics ... but at least for an English speaker, this album is a real snoozer. Maybe it's supposed to be. It's supposedly an album about dreams, or so the web site says. Le Journal du Dormeur seems to be the only release from this particular constellation of performers. -- Fred Trafton
[See Nouvelles Lectures Cosmopolites]
Click here for A Sparrow-grass Hunt's web site
Ink Complete (97)
Ink Compatible (04)
Spastic Ink - Bobby Jarzombek (drums), Pete Perez (Bass), Ron Jarzombek (guitars)
This is new band of Ron Jarzombek (guitar), once in Watch Tower, today also in Gordian Knot. He is accompanied with his brother Bob (drums) and bassist Pete Perez. Basically trio (full of power), this band continues were Watch Tower had ceased. All members are monster players and present totally instrumental, hyper-technical jazz-fusion metal or maybe "extreme-fusion-lite". Ink Complete may be perceived as a festival of a hyperfast playing with a lot of "hick-ups", contrarhythms and polyrhythmics. Each track tries to encapsulate particular story, event or period of making certain track, which can be read about in CD-booklet. Basically Holdsworth-influenced Watch Tower sound has shifted even more towards VoiVod (a lot of crunchy dissonances), has also some Cynic characteristics (quick moving and shifting themes + mysterious atmospheres). Hickups sometimes reminds me of Nimal (no joke). A lot of unexpected, maybe even odd sounds can be heard. 8+ minute long "A Wild Hare" surprises with a Mozart-like theme, later with waltzer theme, which could be at home in my country as well, )))), and then with barocco theme which is intervowen with double bass drum attacks. "To Counter And Groove in E-minor" is a hickupy barocco inspired song with middle eastern influences intervowen into incredible harmonies. Another 8+ minute long suite "Mosquito Brain Surgery" evokes the best Watch Tower circa Control and Resistance mixed with some peaceful atmospherical passages. "The Mad Data Race" is nice mixture between Watch Tower and VoiVod era Dimension Hatross, which invades into the cranium, going straight on neurons while cortex begs for more. This is the most spastic (a lot of unxpected movements) track on CD. Notes simply run all around in surgical laser-streams. Magni(ef)ficient. "A Morning With Squeaky" (must be of a cartoon squirrel) is..., yeah, like a jazz-fusion going cartoon music. "See, and It's Sharp" is heavy, maximally minimalistic track with a dark atmosphere and strange industrial-like (contra)rhythms. Ink Complete is fairly adventurous work, as progressive works should be. It doesn't sound robotic and dry, due to so much technical skill present, as one might think. Lovers of intense fusion should go for it, as well as more adventurous listeners. Essential!! -- Nenad Kobal
|And now for a word from one of the musicians who is currently working with Spastic Ink:|
In addition to Bagsby, Stratovarius keyboardist Jens Johannson guests on Ink Complete.
Spastic Ink appears to be on hiatus at the moment while Jarzombek works on a project with a new band called Blotted Science with Alex Webster on bass and (after a few drummer changes) Charlie Zeleny on drums. This album is due out in early 2007. Or so they think. -- Fred Trafton
[See Bagsby, David |
Gordian Knot |
Jarzombek, Ron |
Johannson Brothers |
Click here for Ron Jarzombek's web site
Spectrum (72), Terminal Buzz (73)
Prog. Terminal Buzz is a double live LP.
Speed, Glue, and Shinki (71), Eve (72)
Crazed, grungy blues/psych featuring the heavy guitar work of Shinki Chen. Recorded in the early '70s, this trio (plus a guest or two) is the epitomy of the drug-crazed heavy psych of the early Japanese rock scene. The self-titled first is a double LP of bluesy guitar jams. The English lyrics (sung by drummer Joey Smith) are a mix of "bad women who done me wrong" and hippie themes of peace, love, drugs and oppression by the establishment. Often, they're a combination of several of these "themes." Musically, they are closest to bands like Mountain. As a matter of fact, listen to "Bad Woman" and see if you can't fit in "Mississippi Queen" almost note for note. You'll also hear bands like Cream or Taste, plus other Japanese psych bands such as Foodbrain, Love Live Life + One, etc. There's also a long excursion of psychedelic experimentalism somewhat akin to early Amon Düül II. The double album can be a bit much to take unless you're into heavy, grungy blues. Some of the more psychedelic songs do feature some very nice guitar work. Eve is a single album of the same, without the guests. You might want to find Eve first to get a feel for the style. It jams pretty good without dying from its own bulk like the double tends to do.
Collection 983: Spectral Voyages (84)
Collection 991: Music & Art (92)
Quiet Thoughts (00)
|New age guitarist. His LP Collection 983-Spectral Voyages is mostly just improvisations in the space mode, with a lot of echoey gimmicks and such, a good album at the listening, but nothing to take away with you.|
[See Lanz, David and Paul Speer |
Click here for Paul Speer's web site
Spektakel was the precursor to Schicke, Führs and Fröhling, existing from 1969-1974. They recorded music in 1974 for an album that was never released. The Laser's Edge label that released all three SFF albums on a two CD set uncovered Spektakel's music and released it on CD.
[See Führs and Fröhling | Schicke, Führs and Fröhling]
23rd Century Music (92)
The duo of Randy Rico (guitars,keyboards,drum programming) and Jeff Aldrich (bass) from Colorado. Their sound could be described as new-age wall of sound synthesizer meets heavy metal guitar, in an instrumental progressive short song format. The music is very powerful, inventive and brilliant, although it all would have been a tad better had they used a real drummer.
Original entry, 5/22/00:
Maybe this is what Genesis would have sounded like in Y2K if they hadn't turned to "the dark side" of the music biz and become pop. No albums yet, but incredible "old Genesis" style MP3 samples, featuring lightning guitar licks, punchy bass, spacey Mellotron and some tight, complex drumming. They are supposedly working on a forthcoming CD. I'll be one of the first to place an order. Check their web page. -- Fred Trafton
This entry was one of the first additions I made when I took over the original GEPR as editor. I heard some MP3 samples on their web site and was impressed, obviously. Seven years later, they're still active and gigging in the UK, and they did release their album Comeuppance in 2002, though I still have yet to hear it. Just too many albums to listen to. The least I can do is update their entry with their correct web site URL, and their MySpace URL. If someone out there knows anything about their music, I'd love to publish a review! Send one in! -- Fred Trafton
Sphere3 hasn't released any new albums since Comeuppance, but keyboardist Neil Durant is now also keyboardist for the latest incarnation of IQ, replacing Mark Westworth. Just thought you'd like to know. -- Fred Trafton
|Good instrumental fusion band from France. Their first is excellent, driving music, best compared to Return To Forever or Brand X. Two lengthy pieces and some shorter tracks. The second is clearly not as good, more shorter pieces, mainstream sound and a very smooth production. Both LPs have been published on the famous Cobra label and are a bit hard to find these days. -- Achim Breiling|
|Prog rock can be hit-and-miss. Sometimes you immediately know when an album you've read good things about is not going to hold up. It's that sinking feeling fifteen dollars later when it becomes painfully clear that things aren't working out; the album is failing and at the rate things are going, these guys just aren't gonna make it. They're running out of time and disc space and if something good doesn't happen soon, it never will. I'm afraid this was my experience with Spheroe. Actually, this French quartet plays some quite competent fusion in a Mahavishnu or Lifetime vein, and can also remind of Camel or Happy The Man with quite distinct symphonic and even Canterbury influences. It's just that if you were raised on this kind of music, you have both heard a ton of it and have high expectations of the cuts. Spheroe are part of what I think of as a "second tier" of fusion, just behind the big boys but still quite nice. -- David Marshall|
In 1978, shortly after his departure from Hawkwind, Nik
Turner recorded an incredible one-off album based on the concept of the Egyptian Gods.
The band he put together featured ex-Gong members
Steve Hillage, Miquette Giraudy,
Tim Blake, and Mike Howlett, together with Alan Powell
(ex-Hawkwind drummer), Harry Williamson
([of Gilli Smyth's] Mother Gong), Andy Anderson
(Steve Hillage's drummer, later of
Hawkwind) and a handful of traditional Middle Eastern
Although the backing band stands as a fine space rock unit in its own right, and complements the music very well, suprisingly it is Turner who steals the show, with a highly disciplined musicianship far exceeding anything he achieved in Hawkwind. Concentrating largely on dreamy flute (which was recorded in the Great Pyramid itself, to excellent effect) interspersed with processed vocal narrations, his performance here comes across as very inspired, even spiritual. Set against a backdrop of Steve Hillage's cosmic guitar, Tim Blake's spacey synths, and occasional ethnic percussion, the result is a highly engrossing work which deserves credit as one of the finest progressive/space albums ever produced. The music calls to mind at various times elements of Steve Hillage, Hawkwind, Gong and Ozric Tentacles, but with a unique sound that is unequalled (in style, not necessarily quality) by any of the above bands. In short, I believe this album is a masterpiece. If you enjoy cosmic music with a strong sub-continental feel, or just want to hear some spacey music that goes beyond the traditional space rock sound, this is a must have.
One final word to those wary of Turner's punk tendencies - this album was recorded before Inner City Unit (Turner's space/punk band) was formed, and well before his pseudo-punk appearances with Hawkwind in the early 1980's, and bears NO resemblance to punk whatsoever (so much so it's sometimes hard to believe that this is in fact the same Nik Turner!) However, be sure to get the original version of Xitintoday - Turner re-recorded and re-worked this album in the 1990's, and from what I have heard, the sound pales by comparison to the original. -- Daniel Briggs
|Links||[See Blake, Tim | Gong | Hawkwind | Hillage, Steve | Smyth, Gilli]|
Spinal Tap Sings "(Listen to the) Flower People" and Other Favourites (67)
We Are All Flower People (67)
Silent But Deadly (69)
Nerve Damage (71)
Blood to Let (72)
The Sun Never Sweats (75)
Jap Habit (75)
Bent for the Rent (76)
Tap Dancing (76)
Rock and Roll Creation (77, aka The Gospel According to Spinal Tap)
Shark Sandwich (80)
Smell the Glove (82)
Heavy Metal Memories (83, Compilation)
Spinal Tap - The Original Soundtrack (84, Live, Soundtrack)
Break Like the Wind (92, Compilation)
Spinal Tap - Derek Smalls (bass), David St. Hubbins (guitar), Nigel Tufnel (guitar). Not
pictured - several drummers who died under mysterious circumstances.
If Spinal Tap was to be merely a footnote in Progressive Rock, it would only go to prove the need for Desenex in any musical genre. The Tapsters wouldn't deserve a place in the GEPR if not for their Prog-Metal monsterpiece album The Sun Never Sweats. Now long out of print, except for "The Sun Never Sweats" on Break Like the Wind and a portion of "Stonehenge" performed live on Spinal Tap - The Original Soundtrack, this album is only available in mystical vinyl recycling shops that only appear in random locations on solstices and equinoxes, where it will carry a premium price tag. Believe me when I tell you ... you don't have enough money to buy this album.
At a time when other bands had already jumped on the "Progressive" bandwagon and fallen back off again, Spinal Tap decided to prove their mettle with "Stonehenge", a side-long epic synopsized in a concert version featured on Spinal Tap - The Original Soundtrack. This is a suite of medieval-flavored fantasy metal pieces including "The Obelisk", "Daze Knights of Old" and "The Princess and the Unicorn" climaxing with their epic "Stonehenge" (The song, you pervert, not the Princess). I'm pretty sure I heard this album back in the '70's. If I did, I'm pretty sure I liked it. I dunno. I was pretty stoned in the '70's. You know? Maybe some day they'll re-release this album on CD, then I'll see if I remember it. Which I'm having trouble doing now. What was I talking about?
Anyway, Spinal Tap rocks. Turn your stereo up to 11 and enjoy. -- Fred Trafton
Why, yes, I do believe in the Easter Bunny. Why do you ask?
Click here for the Official Spinal Tap web site
The Capital in Ruins (11)
Spiral - Chris Boat (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar) and Aaron Frale (guitar)
Spiral is a band from Albuquerque, New Mexico who've just released their debut album The Capital in Ruins. It's just Chris Boat and Aaron Frale, though the album does feature several other guest musicians. It's an ambitious first outing. More than 72 minutes long, it's a concept album that's a sci-fi update of the Rip Van Winkle story, morphed here into the story of a scientist that creates a nano-machine plague that wipes out all of humanity except for himself.
Musically, the album is certainly prog by any definition, but more modern prog than retro. Though the only influence they cite on their web site is Pink Floyd (and I can certainly hear this, particularly in the guitar soloing and some dogs barking that are very reminiscent of Animals), I'd say their sound more closely resembles a cross between Van der Graaf Generator and Porcupine Tree with a dash of Hawkwind and Pure Reason Revolution.
The production is a bit "garage band"-ish, and the vocals aren't the most trained you'll ever hear, but not bad, especially when they're overdubbed to make harmonies. For my tastes, I'd like to hear a bit more in the way of keyboards. The textures are a bit sparse for me. On the other hand, they're trying to impart the feeling of loneliness felt by the last man on earth, doomed by his own invention to an immortality filled with solitude. All things considered, this is an amazing piece of work. Good enough to get it on the GEPR's front page as an "Editor's Choice" pick. And since, for the time being at least, they're offering this album for free on their Bandcamp page, it's pretty hard to beat. Better get over there and check it out (and get your copy!) fast before they change their minds!
Oh, and guys ... sorry for being a Spelling Nazi, but ... it's "Capitol", unless you're talking about CAPITAL letters or investment capital. Never mind. Maybe Rip can't spell. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Spiral's
Bandcamp page, where you can download The Capital in Ruins for free. For now.
Click here for Spiral's MySpace page
A Sceptic's Universe (99 Japan/Asia, 00 Europe/USA)
Spiral Architect (not in photo order) - Øyvind Hægeland (vocals), Steinar
Gundersen (lead guitar), Andreas Jonsson (guitar), Lars K. Norberg (bass), Asgeir
Spiral Architect is an unbelievable Prog-Metal/Technical Metal band was formed in 1993, in Oslo, Norway when lead guitarist Steinar Gundersen, formerly of King's Quest, teamed up with Kaj Gornitzka (guitar), Lars K. Norberg (bass) and Asgeir Mickelson (drums), who were formerly of a band named Anesthesia. Their goal was to create music that challenges the listener, as well as pushes the limits of both Musician and Man. Their music integrates jazz-fusion elements with Metal and is, by far, an excellent choice in music if you are a hardcore Progger.
Their first recording surfaced in 1995 on the compilation CD A Gathering ..., showcasing two of their tunes, "Fountainhead" and "Purpose", which were, at the time, recorded with session vocalist Leif Knashaug. These songs were also released as an independent demo in 1996, with a new vocalist, Øyvind Hægeland, who would from now on be their full-time vocalist. [Then] it was time to start laying the bricks that would be the foundation of A Sceptic's Universe. The philosophy behind the album was to reflect the musicians' rational and sceptical world view.
Spiral Architect signed a world-wide record contract with the American based Laser's Edge/Sensory Label in 1997. Their debut album, A Sceptic's Universe was recorded in 1998 at Village Productions, Texas, USA, with producer Neil Kernon, who has worked with the likes of Yes, Brand X, Queenscrÿche, and Nevermore. The album was released in Japan on December 16th, 1999 with the bonus track "Prelude to Ruin", a Fates Warning cover (which was also released on the FW tribute CD Through Different Eyes). Then, the album was released to the rest of the world January 18th, 2000, without the bonus track.
What makes this unbelievable band so great is that they REALLY DO push the limits of musician and man. Their lyrics are brilliant and their musicianship is top-notch. I'm especially fond of their bass player (yes, I play bass), who sounds something like Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report. They are one of the most "Progressive" Metal bands I've ever heard. A guy I knew about 3 years ago had their CD A Sceptics Universe and showed me it. I was amazed. Ever since then, I have looked all over to find a copy of it, but with no such luck. [See Links below for ordering info -Ed.]
However, two of their songs are available on their site in mp3 form, "Insect" and "Moving Spirit". The song "Insect" is the hook. It captures the listener from the very scary sounding intro, to the ripping guitar/bass solos, right down to the last drop. They use mixtures of jazz-fusion with metal and some middle eastern sounding parts. Then there's the song "Moving Spirit", with it's extraordinary vocals and groovy sound. It will make you feel like dancing ... even though it's almost impossible to dance to!
Anyway, in my opinion, if you happen to come across a little gem called A Sceptic's Universe, be sure to pick it up if you're a real Prog Metal fan, believe me, you won't regret it. -- Brett Waye
Click here for Spiral Architect's web site
Click here to order A Sceptic's Universe from Laser's Edge (go to their "Sensory" Label)
Spirit (68), The Family That Plays Together (69), Clear (69), Twelve Dreams Of Dr.Sardonicus (70), Feedback (72), Spirit of 76 (75), Son Of Spirit (75), Farther Along (76), Future Games - A Magical Kahauna Dream (77), Live (78, 3 different versions each w/different track list), Potatoland (80), Thirteenth Dream (84, aka Spirit of 84), Rapture In The Chambers (89), Tent Of Miracles (90).
While not progressive in the ELP/Genesis/Yes sense, this band went far early on to create bridges between rock, jazz and classical styles long before it was stylish to do so. The end result was a respectful hybrid, not a fusion. The original lineup consisted of drummer Ed Cassidy and keyboardist John Locke, both experienced jazz circuit musicians, bassist Mark Andes, guitarist Randy California, and keyboardist-turned-lead singer Jay Ferguson. This lineup released four outstanding albums between '68 and '70, culminating with the classic Twelve Dreams of Dr.Sardonicus. The best of these four, plus some rare soundtrack and single material, is available in the double CD compilation, Time Circle. In '70, Andes and Ferguson left to start the boogie-rock band Jo Jo Gunne. At roughly the same time, California dropped out, so two new members (Al and John Staehely) were recruited and the band carried on as a four piece to record what is possibly the band's most commercial album, Feedback. Locke then dropped out, and after a tour as a three piece, Cassidy did as well. Meanwhile, California had recorded a solo album Kaptain Kopter and The Fabulous Twirly Birds, featuring Noel Redding on bass, Cassidy, and other musicians. This new partnership between Cassidy and California (who incidentally was Cassidy's step-son) would eventually lead to the reformation of Spirit as a three-piece, with various bassists coming and going, which would last throughout the balance of the '70s, '80s and into present times. The sound of the reformed Spirit was more guitar oriented with California at the helm, with less of a jazz/classical influence as compared to the early period. The albums from this period tend to be less lyrically sophisticated, and more basic rock and roll, with obvious nods to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, although there are some gems in here, most notably the late '70s Spirit Live (was released with three different track lineups in Germany, the UK, and the US), the classic Future Games - A Magical Kahauna Dream, and Potatoland, their best concept album since Sardonicus. One note about Potatoland, it was originally recorded in the 1974 period, and completely re-recorded in 1980 when it was finally released. In the '90s they're still going strong, although albums are released much less regularly these days. Best places to start: Early Period: 1st album, Sardonicus or Time Circle. Later period: Potatoland, Future Games, or any version of Live.
[See California, Randy]
Lies to Live By (74)
A Canadian band that went through several formation changes before arriving with this name. Their earlier styles were influenced by the West Coast psych sound, but Lies to Live By, while still in the psych vein, had a unique sound with Mellotron and song structure lending some progressive overtones. Strongly dominated by Preston Wynn's smooth, powerful tenor and Rob Bulger's frantic lead guitar, their conceptual album explores the darker side of the human psyche. Dashes of piano can be heard throughout. There are three shorter songs (3-4 minutes) and three longer songs (8-11) minutes. Both showcase the band very well, exploring the fear of war, frustration and emptiness, dehumanization and loss of freedom, and the human puzzle in general. This is a very strong album, and one most pysch fans and many prog fans would thoroughly enjoy.
[See Reign Ghost | Christmas]
New Worlds By Design (99)
Reflections In A Radio Shower (01)
Found in Nature (06)
Glissando Grooves (06, as Daevid Allen and Don Falcone)
Alien Injection (08)
Earth Born (08, w/ Bridget Wishart)
Original Entry, 1/5/06:
Can you say space rock? You can hardly find a better modern example of the genre than Spirits Burning, since it's a Don Falcone project with guests from the far corners of the multiverse ... well, the space rock multiverse at least. Among the major contributors to Reflections in a Radio Shower include Daevid Allen and Thom the World Poet (Gong), Robert Calvert and Roger S. Neville-Neil (Hawkwind), Kenneth Magnusson and Knut Gerwers (The Moor) and Paul Williams (Quarkspace) to name just a few of the more famous names. There are many other contributors as well, from lesser-known but equally spacey bands.
Musically, this album is practically an introduction to the space rock genre, with songs that sound like all of the above-mentioned bands, lots of deep poetry, glissando guitars, bleeping, gliding synths and general psychedelic affectations. An easy recommendation for those who like space rock (like me), but if your leanings are more towards symphonic prog or RIO, then you probably won't find much here to become a convert that you haven't heard before. Good stuff, and I recommend it for space cadets across the known multiverse. -- Fred Trafton
The latest two releases by Don Falcone under the Spirits Burning name are Alien Injection and Earth Born, which he put together with his usual gang of suspects from many other famous space rock bands. Well, as famous as space rock ever gets, I suppose. Some of the interesting guests on Alien Injection include author (and one-time Hawkwind collaborator) Michael Moorcock and Paul Williams of Quarkspace plus a host of other musicians. Earth Born features vocals and lyric writing by Hawkwind alumnus Bridget Wishart (no, not the nude dancer, that was Stacia), who also contributes vocals on Alien Injection.
Both albums are similar, sort of a blend of Hawkwind and Gong, though Earth Born relies more heavily on Wishart's vocals. Hypnotic, repeating drum and bass lines with spacey sung, spoken and muttered vocals, synth swoops, tinkly bell-like synths, Mellotrons and acid-drenched guitar solos all echoed and reverbed until it sounds as murky as the atmosphere of Jupiter. Not that I've actually heard the atmosphere of Jupiter, you understand. But if you understand what I mean by that, you will probably enjoy both of these albums. If not, maybe you should stay away from space rock anyway. But I've always been a space rock fan, and this is topnotch stuff. Though I could use a bit more of a spacey story line or mythos to go with it. Pot-head pixies anyone? -- Fred Trafton
|Links||[See Allen, Daevid | Calvert, Robert | Falcone, Don | Fireclan | Gong | Grindlestone | Hawkwind | Moor, The | Spaceship Eyes | Quarkspace | Quiet Celebration | Trap]|
St. Radigund's (72)
Old Boot Wine (72)
Bells, Boots and Shambles (73)
We Were A Happy Crew (99, Compilation)
Burn the Bridges (00)
|Early Britsh folk-prog in vein of Trees or Fairport Convention, known for being Barbara Gaskin's first band.|
Spirogyra was an early 70's progressive / psychedelic folk band from Canterbury, based
almost entirely on the unique talents of male vocalist/guitarist Martin Cockerham and
female vocalist Barbara Gaskin.
The Spirogyra hard to define sound differs greatly from the famous Canterbury sound of Caravan, Soft Machine and the likes. It can be best described as a mixture of the medieval Steeleye Span folksy sound and the lunatic, hallucinated psychedelic atmosphere of early Pink Floyd. Trippy and magical, Spirogyra is almost entirely acoustic, enriched with screaming, sometime dissonant violin and a flute.
The two vocalists Cockerham and Gaskin, and their combined singing is what gives Spirogyra their unique and hard to define sound, Gaskin sings purely and straightforward ("Old Boot Wine", "Spiggly") while Cockerham supports her with a more spoken, out of tune style resembling Syd Barrett, sometimes taking the lead himself and giving the song an extra trippy feeling ("Cogwheels, Crutches and Cyanide", perhaps their best song, very wild and crazy).
Spirogyra released 3 albums during its short life span, generally maintaining a uniform style through all 3. The first LP (St. Radigund's) is a bit wilder and energetic, the second (Old Boot Wine) is calmer and melancholic and the third LP (Bells, Boots & Shambles) contains longer and more structure complex songs ("the Furthest Point", "In the Western World"), also combining cello and trumpet!
The third album is largely considered the best and suggested as an introduction to the group while the other 2 albums guarantee a listening delight as well. Some excellent song examples worth checking out are "Cogwheels, Crutches and Cyanide", "Magical Marry" and "The Future Won't be Long" (St. Radigund's), "Van Allen's Belt" and "A Canterbury Tale" (Old Boot Wine). Also available is Burn the Bridges, a compilation of early demo tapes. With a style similar to St. Radigund's, this compilation contains some excellent tunes ("Burn the Bridges", "I Hear You're Going Somewhere (Joe Really)", "Turn Again Lane"). -- Lior Arbel
From the Stewart/Gaskin web site:
HEALTH WARNING - We Were A Happy Crew (released in March 1999) is a Mooncrest Records (UK) Spirogyra compilation, featuring a selection of tracks from the band's three 1970's albums. Unfortunately, the CD was mastered by Mooncrest from dubious sources, and the resulting product is of poor sonic quality, with distortion and extraneous noises throughout.
At the insistence of Barbara Gaskin, the CD has now been properly mastered from the original master tapes, and anyone who owns the original faulty pressing may swap it for the re-mastered CD. (If in any doubt which version you own, check the opening 7 or 8 seconds of track 5 - if you hear a loud knocking sound like someone kicking a mike stand, you've got the original!) To get your replacement, contact:
Billy Masterson, Trojan Sales, Unit 25, Forest Business Park, South Access Road, Walthamstow, London E17 8BA. Tel: 0181 509 2099. Fax: 0181 520 0652.
Uomo Irregolare (80)
[See Metamorfosi | Thor]
Mental Notes (75), Second Thoughts (76), Dizrythmia (77), Frenzy (78), True Colors (80), Corroboree (81, aka Waiata), Beginning Of The Enz (81, pre-first album), Time and Tide (82), Conflicting Emotions (84), See Ya 'Round (85), Living Enz (85), History Never Repeats (87), Rear Enz (93, Box Set), Live (??), Enz Of An Era (??)
Great band, fun music. Only their first couple may appeal to progressive fans, Mental Notes and Second Thoughts. Mental Notes is molded firmly in the Foxtrot/Nursery Cryme style of Genesis (although a little bit more quirky). Second Thoughts is a remake of Mental Notes.
Pop band from New Zealand with some experimental/progressive tendencies (mostly in the early part of their career), in many ways like 10cc or like that. Later they became very mainstream, had a couple hits, then flaked. Best stuff would be Beginning Of The Enz, Mental Notes thru Dizrhythmia. Also, Corroboree and Time and Tide have some real nice stuff on them too.
New Zealand band best known as being the predecessor to Crowded House, but that began as a rather twisted symphonic prog band which featured two lead vocalists, the fine wistful tenor of Tim Finn and the grating, often maniacal vocals of Phil Judd. They added a touch of the British music-hall to their sound, most often taking residence in the loony sounds (spoons, blow-whilstles, sirens and such) of percussionist Noel Crombie, and the slightly detuned, barrelhouse piano (played alternately by Finn and main keyboardist Eddie Rayner). It is primarily keyboardist Eddie Rayner who gives the band its symphonic edge with lush waves of Mellotron and Moog synth. The Australian Mushroom/Festival-label pressing of Beginning Of The Enz chronicles the band's earliest days and is supposed to be good for those who like their prog period. Mental Notes is their first official album, with moods ranging from whimsical ("Amy (Darling)," "Walking Down A Road") to pensive (the beautiful "Time For A Change") to dark and moody ("Stranger Than Fiction") to borderline dementia ("Under The Wheel," "Titus"). The pervasive Mellotron and Judd's acoustic guitar (and on "Titus", mandolin) remind of Foxtrot-period Genesis, Wally Wilkinson's electric guitar solos are not far-removed from Camel or Sebastian Hardie. Second Thoughts (the American release confusingly titled Mental Notes in a revised Mental Notes cover with a pink, scalloped border) contains four tracks from Mental Notes in rerecorded versions. Lead guitarist Wally Wilkinson is replaced by sax/trumpet player Bob Gillies, there are also some additional guest players on cello and violin, making the new arrangements of the old songs (especially "Walking Down A Road" and "Stranger Than Fiction/Time For A Change") The use of horns brings out the "music-hall" element in their sound, most evident on the rather twisted "The Woman Who Loves You", about a man who robs the grave of his dead fiancee! The piano and horns echo this sound, there's also a spoons solo (!) in the middle. This album is probably the one to get first. Dizrythmia is the first album without Judd, but his ghost still hants this album (he wrote or co-wrote three of the songs, many of the other songs sound as though he could have written them). Judd's replacement is Finn's little brother Neil. The most progressive song is the lunatic whirlwind "Jamboree." Other standouts include the haunting "Charley," which may well be the band's best song, and the musing "Without A Doubt." Other songs are quirky, herky-jerky little tunes, not especially progressive but very enjoyable. I haven't heard Frenzy, but it apparently emphasizes the quirkier (i.e. least progressive) elements of Dizrythmia. By True Colours, they had transformed completely into a winsome pop band. Not prog at all, but if you're open-minded, you may be able to appreciate its simple charms. Ditto for the rest, and the Crowded House LPs, which are similar. The live album (The Living Enz) includes a couple of tracks from their prog days ("Time For A Change" and "Charley"). The box set (Rear Enz) also includes rarities from their Mental Notes days, even a 15-minute track!. -- Mike Ohman
The Light (95)
The Official Live Bootleg (96, Live)
Beware of Darkness (96)
Kindness of Strangers(97)
From the Vault (98)
The Beard Is Out There (98, Live)
Day for Night (99)
Live at the Whisky and NEARFest (99, Live)
Don't Try This at Home (00, Live)
Don't Try This @ Home Either! (00, Live)
There And Here (01, Live 2CD)
Snow (02, 2CD)
Feel Euphoria (03)
Gluttons For Punishment (05, Live)
Spock's Beard (06)
SB Live (08)
Spock's Beard (Snow Line-up) - Dave Meros (Bass), Nick D'Virgilio (Drums,
Vocals, Guitar), Ryo Okumoto (Keyboards), Neal Morse (Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar)
and Alan Morse (Guitar, Cello)
Singer/writer/guitarist/keyboardist Neal Morse heads up Spock's Beard. He has grown very famous within the progressive rock community, and has worked with Arjen Lucassen on Ayreon's releases, and is the main keyboardist and writer along with Roine Stolt for progressive "supergroup" Transatlantic.
Of the two Spock's Beard albums I have, The Light is an excellent album of progressive rock. The worst parts are pretty good, and the best are brilliant. By the time of Day for Night, the prog edge has faded quite a bit, and the songs are less challenging, though still not pop. I have heard it said that V is a return to their more progressive form, but I haven't heard it. I can highly recommend The Light. -- Fred Trafton
Snow is a brilliant album, with plenty of Morse's signature "catchy" melodies and an interesting if somewhat derivative story line (a handicapped boy finds God and attracts a cult following only to have them turn on him when he can't deliver what they expect of him. Tommy, anyone?). The version I have has some previously-unreleased demos of songs as Morse brought them to the band from his home studio. The amazing thing about this is how much they sound like the final versions of the songs. Morse must have not allowed for much input from the other band members at all. Nevertheless, Snow is quite enjoyable, if a bit too long at 2 CD's. I think it could have been even better if it was tighter. But whatever my gripes, it would be a hard album to not recommend.
After 2002, drummer Nick D'Virgilio fronts the band, attracting comparisons to Genesis, though the comparison ends with the personel shifts ... they did not switch to being pop superstars after this changeover. I haven't heard any of the post-Morse Spock's Beard, but I have heard D'Virgilio guesting on several other projects of late, and his drumming is far more interesting on those projects than the SB albums I've heard, not to mention the fact that is vocals are great. This leads me to believe again that Morse must have maintained an iron grip on the band ... I think he was holding NDV back. One day, I'll have to hear the NDV-era Beard albums and see if I still think so. So much prog, so little time ... -- Fred Trafton
Spocks Beard now has 5 studio albums, 4 live albums and an album of
early recordings and outtakes. I bought their first two albums on a
whim because of the name, and boy was I impressed. The best way to
describe the style of music is more organic, lots of piano, organ and
Mellotron, there is synth, but it's mostly kind of a standard Oberheim
type sound. The musicians are all very skilled, but don't tend to go
off into pyrotechnics. There are some amazing harmony pieces in the
style of Gentle Giant on Beware of Darkness
"Thoughts", Day for Night "Gibberish" and the latest V with "Thoughts
II". I had the opportunity to see them live in August 2000 and was just blown away,
this band has energy, excitement and enthusiasm for what they are doing, and it
The band is really Neal Morse who writes everything, plays keyboards, guitar and sings. Neal is really an amazing musician and songwriter, his material just keeps getting better. The music isn't challenging to listen to like much of King Crimson, but they do tend to have their noisy bits that can take some getting use to for some people. You can hear samples of several albums at amazon.com, and you can buy all of it at their web site. This has been my favorite band for years now, and will continue to be my favorite for some time to come. -- Shawn Gordon
Talking of some sort of Beard of someone named Spock, it is (boring, but)
necessary to recognize that this new American band led by vocalist/keysman
Neal Morse has joined British Classic Rock Society, as well as established
Neo-Prog label "Giant Electric Pea" owned by IQ.
At first I was quite impressed by their debut, in spite of obvious "presence" of
Gentle Giant's spirit. But very soon this
heady first impression has melted away, and the album containing exceptionally
long compositions (sometimes over 20 minutes, as in case of the titletrack)
simply became boring. So, The Light was well performed, and it is
not Neo, but with the mostly text-based overall conception and the way
instrumental arrangements are made is almost free of any originality, this is
no more than a pretty decent Progressive album.
When next year this Spock, whose that Beard, joined that specific Classic Rock Society, I was not a bit surprised. And the following (his? his Beard's?) album, [Beware of Darkness] unlike Xitizen Cain, just shows that these guys wanna be another, more accessible copy of so famous Gentle Giant, because they, having very few original ideas of their own, open works with such familiar structures, and so actively, but not so effectively. Just listen to the second track: it turned out to be possible, making a Clone, to have as a result just a degenerate. The "rockish" cover of one of George Harrison's songs is even better (maybe exactly because it is a legal cover-version?).
Back to Classic (!) Rock Society: undoubtedly, their activities are often necessary for Prog-novices as a starting stage, but their long Title does not correspond to reality, as well as their arrogance, when albums made by Arena, the founders of Society, are described by the band on the titlepages of booklets not otherwise as "A Classic to the Future", because we all know that this is just "headquarters" of good Neos, and melodies with accessibility are the MAIN factor in order to join that Society. And even the best bands, albums, etc., declared by themselves every year, do not always correspond to reality even within the framework of their Society.
So ... Who am I talking about? O-oh! Well, Beard - third... These are not rhyming words!? Because, if after the second album the Beard of that peasant got slightly thinner, with the third album Spock simply shaved it, so tired from shallow comparisons: who (he, Spock) or what (his Beard) is a chief thing here, in the title of the band. Now his chin is open (poppy), and there are no place (no "quirky" Beard!) for complication. Just the title remains the same ... -- Vitaly Menshikov
|V is the only album of SB that I listened completely. Music is mixture of Yes and sometimes Gentle Giant, so it is 21st century version of Genesis, Gentle Giant plus some Yes. Music is not very dark. during listening V sometimes I feel that Jon Anderson singing and Genesis playing, strange. They all play very good, however nothing is new. "Thoughts (Part II)" is a unique song. An important point, I think, their unique music is a result of very high recording quality. Among other new prog bands (for me most of them prog metal, I can't stand their music) Spock's Beard is very special. It is recommendable. -- Emrah Yucelen|
|Spock's Beard's latest release (2002) Snow is a double CD concept album in the vein of Genesis' The Lamb. This has to be one of the best albums I've heard in years! Snow tells the story of an albino who finds salvation in rock music. This is a solid effort with recurring themes and top notch musicianship. This is modern day prog with a wink to the past. Included on the bonus disc is an impressive performance of Yes' "South Side of the Sky". Highly recommended!!!!!!! -- Darryl Risinger|
The 2003 release of Feel Euphoria shows just how indispensable
Neal Morse was to the
sound of Spock's Beard. His exit has gutted the band, robbing it most noticeably of voice
talent and direction. Most of this album's tracks feature overworked guitar effects, as
well as a lo-fi sort of distortion that attempts (and fails) to hide just how poorly
Nick D'Virgilio sings. D'Virgilio
sounds like a Nine Inch Nails ripoff; he tries to
sing below his vocal range, never supporting the sound or allowing it to ring as it should.
"Sid's Boys Choir" is the best executed song on the album; it constists of a capella harmonies with an adult male voice on each part. However, it does not compare to the work of any group that is familiar with the a capella style; somehow catch breaths and other flaws remained on the track, even in this age of multiple takes and easy digital editing. A group such as Chanticleer can do better at a live performance.
"Intro" and "Change" sound exactly the same, and their beeping synthesizer patch gets old quickly. The introduction to "East of Eden, West of Memphis" has an average commercial sounding guitar hook, but flops completely as soon as the singing starts. Overall, the only reason to buy this album would be for the cover art. -- Matthew Plough
With Neal, without Neal --
the debate will only be raised again with the release
of Octane. This, the band's eighth disk, will keep the arguments about this band
raging on. Who is Spock's Beard? I'm sure the band knows, and it seems they don't
care what others think. But, fans and critics are stumbling over themselves to figure out
if they are still a prog band or a rock band of epic proportions.
Octane is great song writing and amazing musicianship. Did you expect anything else from this crew? But, is it prog? Many will deny that it is. Others will go to their grave claiming Spock's Beard is a better prog band now and Octane only proves it.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan. But, I firmly believe the differences are too stark to ignore -- especially with this new release. Octane, therefore, is this band's second effort and should be viewed that way to be fair. Listeners will be able to point to progressive elements, but there are other pieces and influences found in the tracks of Octane.
I'll start out with my annoyance that NDV and the boys can't seem to settle on whether they're doing a concept album or not. Feel Euphoria and now Octane are half concept albums with other good or great songs included. This bugs the heck out of me. I am a concept album fan and feel shortchanged with approximately 30 minutes of great musical storytelling that suddenly is interrupted by misplaced craftsmanship. I almost would like to have the two epic pieces from Feel Euphoria and Octane put on one disk and the remaining tracks put on another. Hey, guys, forget about the comparisons, develop your epic works farther and let them stand for themselves!
Okay, with that off my chest…
"A Flash Before My Eyes" (Tracks 1-7)
"The Ballet of the Impact" (5:34) -- A three-part gem that sets a melancholy tone for the mini-concept, "A Flash Before My Eyes". Ryo's subdued keyboard work here is the highlight before NDV's too breathy voice begins the story one man's reflections of mortality. At one point, Alan Morse's siren-like guitar gives a sense of horror which alludes to the accident of the story. The brass was a classical touch to emphasize the idea of the asphalt dance. Morse gives us a taste of the influence that David Gilmour has had on him, admittedly or not, with a short but soaring riff toward the end.
"I Wouldn't Let It Go" (4:53) -- Does Eric Clapton come to mind to anyone else? A nice song, but I was confused when this one started and finished. This is one of the songs that will set off those who pine for the old Spock's Beard. I felt like I should go hug my wife and kids after listening to this one. Good sentiment. Works well for the story. Was it progressive? It is if you think "Tears in Heaven" is progressive. Most will cry foul.
"Surfing Down the Avalanche" (3:43) -- They brought me back with this throbbing track. A great bass and guitar introduce and underlay the song giving it a groove that is relentless. This would make one awesome live song. Pyrotechnics sending sparks flying and lights pulsing with long hairs shaking fists and swinging heads. The crowd would chant the lyrics along with the key and guitar power chords and drums synchronized. Morse's gives out great licks and shows that he is a true child of the '70s. This style suits NDV's vocals well as he punches out, sings and emotes a track that will have you hitting the repeat button.
"She Is Everything" (6:46) -- This song is what '70s rock ballads wanted to be when they grew up. I often felt like I was listening to Gilmour-led Pink Floyd. But, Ryo's touches here are sublime, something Rick Wright sometimes lacked. The guitar solo is another example of just how underrated Alan Morse is as an artist.
"Climbing Up That Hill" (3:31) -- Lyrically, this song just pissed me off. This is about as cliché as you can get. How many times do we have to hear about our lame existence and desires for greener grass. Frankly, I'm sick of it and disappointed that Spock's Beard's songwriting took this dip. It's a good rock song, musically. I know it's part of the story, but I can't get over the theme. Sorry.
"Letting Go" (1:52) -- Colors from the man with a brilliant palette. Ryo makes sweeping brush strokes on our aural canvases with this short instrumental. Too short. I wanted to see the finished work. But, it was one of the best two minutes on the disk. Never venturing too far toward spacey, but the keys here do create individualized images in our minds.
"Of the Beauty of It All" (4:53) -- After a slow start, a good deal of this song harkens back to earlier disks from Spock's Beard. It's what we expect from this band creatively and musically. Keys and strings slightly evoke both Wakeman and Kansas. Nicely traversing light and dark, the song is arguably the most progressive of the "A Flash Before My Eyes" story. At one point, the brass trio takes the lead later joined by the whole ensemble to finish in climax and ending in denouement with piano chords that leave you questioning if we really want to know what's on the other side.
"NWC" (4:16) -- Another excellent example of what this combo is capable of when they are prog focused. The synchronized chords and rhythm section are again used effectively often to a frenetic pitch. Mellotron is a powerful tool used in the right hands, a gimmick in the wrong ones. Ryo shows he is a master on this track sewing the parts together with a deft hand. NDV and the gang even slide into an island-influenced mood led by his work on the kit. But, what does "NWC" mean? Neal Went Christian?
"There Was a Time" (4:58) -- Another slow start to what is nothing more than a good rock song. I know I'm sounding as if that's a bad thing. But, just when the band takes us to a corner of prog utopia, they throw in a formulaic rock piece. This song has so many obligatory elements that I won't bother you with the details. This is what Dan Fogelberg would have considered jammin'.
"The Planet's Hum" (4:42) -- It starts with a nice interplay between the guitars leading to an Ozzie-like sound and effects. Not too original, but interesting. Shifting, the song gets a little lighter highlighted by the repeated chorus. The acoustic guitar is a great way to end this pleasant song.
"Watching the Tide" (5:07) -- Another rock ballad with falsetto and artificial vibrato. NDV, stick to the Avalanche vocals. When the song builds, it gets noticeably better from a prog point of view. The addition of strings to the work of Ryo here leaves a nice taste. But ...
"As Long As We Ride" (5:35) -- There's a horrible ending to the disk. Why did NDV leave us with this last track feeling as if we just attended the county fair to see Foghat? There's even a couple of lyrical woohooos thrown in for good measure. It's a mystery to me.
Dave Meros has on more than one occasion expressed his thanks to just be along for the ride. Yet, along with Alan Morse, these two should take more leadership of the band and exert their amazing musical influence on what Spock's Beard creates. My opinion is that it would please more of the fan base and lean more on the prog side of the balance. I believe that Spock's Beard has established itself independently of Neal's leadership. Good for the band, but will it be bad for InsideOut Music whose stable is filled with metal and prog thoroughbreds? It's not what many fans want, but it's a band's choice to create what they want to create. I just won't call it prog. -- Dan Grubbs
[See Ayreon |
D'Virgilio, Nick |
Morse, Neal |
Click here for the Spock's Beard web site.
What Is Life? (81)
Alidai Star (73), Revel, Weird and Wild (76), Time Will Pass (77), Magic Lady (79)
Folk/rock; later just Spriguns. Not sure if they are the same or not.
The eponymous release by the British band Spring has long been regarded as a classic of the early '70s UK progressive sound, to which bands such as Fields, Greenslade, etc. contributed. This sound was built around organs and keyboards, was generally melodic in nature, never very intense, and featured contemplative lyrics. Almost always the sound included the lush stylings of the Mellotron, and, this band had the benefit of three (!) Mellotron players, making the release a fantasy-come-true for those who enjoy the instrument. In terms of comparisons, the best description that comes to mind is that of a cross between ELP and the Moody Blues. Interestingly enough, the band features Pique Withers on drums and glockenspiel, before he went on to fame and fortune with Dire Straits (as Pick Withers)!
Usually, the first thing you read about this band is that there are *three* Mellotron players. The Mellotron, however, isn't the predominant instrument, though it obviously makes many appearances. Spring is a classic of the early UK progressive scene. Very melodic but with a somewhat unpolished feel typical of many early UK prog bands. Typical of this scene, there's a lot of electric guitar but no extended soloing like the German undergound scene, however, some of the solos are very nice. Vocals are a little rough but no worse than most prog bands. The Laser's Edge CD reissue contains three bonus tracks though that makes the album a little tiring over the long haul. Comparable to Fantasy, Cressida, and Cirkus. Pique Withers (later of Dire Straits) played drums.
A Silk Purse (75), The Happy Handful (75), Smoking On The Bog (77)
Celtic folk-rock with prog influences.
Fish Out Of Water (75)
Chris Squire in the '70's
I only know of one of his albums called Fish Out of Water, and it is a masterpiece. It is well in the vein of Yes, but with a much more symphonic side. Chris Squire's signature bass is all over the album, he also sings in all of the tracks.
The album consists on five tracks. The first two are "Hold Out Your Hand" and "You By My Side", which are the lighter tracks but that doesn't mean they are bad, on the contrary they are great songs on the shorter range. Then comes "Silently Fallen" which is eleven minutes long and features an instrumental session that I consider the highlight of the album. Another well crafted track is called "Lucky Seven" with an awesome beat, and finally an epic piece that runs almost fifteen minutes entitled "Safe (Cannon Song)", this particular piece shows Squire's great bass abilities as well as his compositional skills, and it is also one of the most symphonic songs out there.
Mel Collins and few other well known names are in this album, and apart form the bass, drums, guitar and keyboards there is also A LOT of wind instruments. This album is one of the hidden gems of progressive symphonic rock and I cannot stress how much I recommend it. -- Ricardo Otero
[See Conspiracy |
Click here for Chris Squire's web site