X Religion [Uzbekistan]
Updated 5/19/05

Sodom And Gomorra XXI (02, as Al-Bird)
Dances On Gobelins (03)
X Religion - Vitaly "Progressor" Menshikov (bass), Valery "Ptero" Vorobjov (drums) and Albert "AlBird" Khalmurzayev (keyboards)
Collage by Fred Trafton (don't blame the band!)

Have you ever read a bad review by someone who blasts a band as being a bunch of no-talent wannabees and wanted to say to him, "So you think you can do any better? Put your money where your mouth is and let's see what you can do!" Well, there have been times I wanted to say that to Vitaly Menshikov, a progressive reviewer known for his strong opinions who frequently contributes to the GEPR and has his own web site in Uzbekistan, the infamous Progressor. Whether he loves or hates a band, Vitaly never pulls any punches ... he always says exactly what he thinks. Well, now it's his turn to be the recipient of reviews instead of the reviewer.

X Religion is Albert "AlBird" Khalmurzayev (analog and digital keyboards, piano and guitar), Valery "Ptero" Vorobjov (Yamaha electric drums and Sabian cymbals) and none other than Vitaly "Progressor" Menshikov (bass and acoustic guitars). Sodom And Gomorra XXI has been released on the Musea Records label and Dances On Gobelins has been released on the Mellow Records label. The cover art of Sodom And Gomorra XXI looks a bit lame, and the text bears the inexplicable phrase "From one of the two"

Vitaly hates comparisons to other bands, but since I find them helpful to get a general idea of what a band sounds like, I'll indulge in a few comparisons anyway. X Religion is a power keyboard trio, so comparisons to ELP will be inevitable. Some sections really do remind one of ELP, (but with a much better bass player and no vocals), but by no means all of it. Other parts have a more Canterbury influence, sounding a bit like Dave Stewart during his National Health days, but will then suddenly become more laid back, delicate and beautiful like Greenslade. In addition to these progressive roots, bits and pieces of Russian classical influences sometimes swell up, making one think they're about to paraphrase Moussorgsky or Prokofiev, only to have it veer away and not be that at all. In all, they exhibit an original and unique style that grows more interesting with each successive listen.

When I wrote my initial impressions at the end of last year, I had only heard some rough (and incomplete) mixes of Dances On Gobelins on cassette. At that time, I said that the recording quality was "not the slick 'Los Angeles' sound you get from some modern prog bands, but has a more '70's sound". I also disparaged the quality of their studio equipment. Now that I've heard the final mixes on CD, I have to take that all back. The recording here is pristine, with an aggressive bass sound prominent in the mix and some wonderful and complex electronic drum sonorities (don't worry, they don't sound like an old Simmons set, they are just very punchy). The compositions feature each musician's talents in various sections, and each of them are passionate and intricate players of their chosen instruments.

The lack of obvious overdubs leads me to believe these guys would be able to do a pretty good job of performing these pieces live. The keyboard equipment does not sound like the '70's "power keyboard trio" arsenal, however (aside from the Hammond sounds) ... Albert's sound has a lot of sampler in it, with lush violin pads and orchestral stabs, making the sound an interesting mix of old and new. Vitaly's fretless bass work is really turned up in the mix too, reminding me of the slinky sound of Jeff Berlin (Bruford) (though not a flashy), Eberhard Weber (Kate Bush), or William Kopecky (Kopecky).

Now that both albums are available, you'll want to order both of them. Though Vitaly says they are both part of the X Religion discography, it sounds to me like Sodom and Gomorrah XXI is more of an "Al-Bird" solo album which has the other X Religion members playing on it than a real "band" album. Dances on Gobelins balances the contributions of the other members more, and has more of a "group" feel. But both are clearly excellent and come highly recommended.

You pass the test, Vitaly. You can do it better than some of those bands you blast. I just hate it when someone turns out to be both opinionated and good enough to justify it, don't you? -- Fred Trafton

[See Fromuz, The | Jeremy and Progressor]

Click here for the X Religion web site
Click here for Vitaly's Progressor web site
Click here to order Sodom and Gomorrah XXI from Musea Records (search for "Sodom" as "artist", even though this is wrong)
Click here for the Mellow Records label to order Dances on Gobelins

Xaal [France]
Updated 5/28/02

On The Way (91, aka En Chemin)
Seconde Ere (93)
French instrumental fusion band with a strong link to the Magma sound, but occasionally reminding of Shylock, Crimson, and other bands on the euro- fusion-funk axis. They are a three piece (4 Piece on the first album) of guitars, bass and drums, with some guesting by Magma's recent horn section. The first album has five long tracks that tend to ramble in self indulgence a little (hey, what's wrong with that?), while the second has a much more assertive sound, with very strong rhythms, ripping guitar, mid-length tracks, and a more directed melodic approach. Outstanding.
Sort of mild progressive fusion in the style of Crimson's Red or Lark's Tongues. On the Way is all instrumental and I usually wished they would open up a little more and lose control. Their sound has a kind of sameness that wears thin after 60 minutes.
Xaal are a French band who play a brand of progressive rock verging on fusion, that compares well with contemporaries Minimum Vital, Edhels, and the like. The music on On the Way is all-instrumental, and, perhaps a bit more guitar-dominant than the two bands named. The core line-up does not include a keyboardist, but a guest player is listed, along with a couple of others who make occasional trumpet and sax contributions. The performance is pretty good and energetic, and, if you enjoy the "French instrumental progressive' sound, this should be a worthwhile disc.
Excellent French fusion trio consisting of drums, bass, and guitar/guitar synth. On the Way in a conceptual instrumental album that brings to mind French fusion bands such as Zao and Weidorje, and perhaps a bit of Brand X. Songs range from four to eleven minutes in length and serve as showcases for some tight interplay between these guys. I've had the CD only a short time but I have grown to like it a great deal. Excellent and recommended progressive fusion from the current progressive scene.
On the Way forges ahead into the French "zeuhl" music. Based largely on pioneers such as Magma and Univers Zero, Xaal's music has the rhythmic proficiency of both the aforementioned bands, and even some horn guest spots from former Magma-ites. But rather than re-live old glories, Xaal takes the sound into new directions. Their melodies are based around a heavy, riffing guitar and occasional keyboard backdrops. Occasionally they remind me of Voivod! Led by busy drumming and an active bass, the music contains the weirdness, inconsistencies, and drive that early Magma had, without the repetition that turns many people off that band. The creative level here is something right out of the seventies and hopefully this will inspire other nineties prog bands to become more self-indulgent. This was, IMHO, one of the strongest new releases in 1992. Highly recommended.
For the first ten listenings I couldn't decide how much I liked On the Way, but after another ten, it promised to become one of my favourites. This album has more of a spark of creative originality than Änglagård, although it's less immediately impressive. It's all instrumental (except for one mad groan), and fairly sparse-sounding because there are few keyboards. It has more variation than Änglagård, and has that certain quality which I can't really describe, which makes an album suitable for continual repeated listening without getting boring.
French band whose debut was more than welcome for exhausted classic prog sound after Time finally overcame senseless, vacuous and no doubt submissive Eighties. Ambitious mix of classic French prog, zeuhl and fusion has proven solid and substantial despite not the best sound-cloth. Esp. guitar was constantly wheezing. Melodies and arrangements are effective and are able to echo in one's mind for quite a time. Interesting enough, I traced some atmospheres which was to find in 1997, on Voivod's Phobos, with only slightly different effect. I also traced a riff similar of Ozzy era Black Sabbath, too well-known to me (after having chance to hear plenty of their copycats) to please me. Anyhow, sufficiently efficient and much better than Änglagård whose debut provided me another disappointing revelation. Seconde Ere is tighter. Production is far better than on debut. Guitar of Jad Ayache is powerful and loud, bass is throbbing somewhere near while drums push altogether in a very decisive way. Band managed to maintain all their characteristics. One is to hear instrumentally full-grown mix of Present, Magma, King Crimson, VDGG and bands' unusual talent for making haunting melodies and rich themes which summon reminiscences of ancient times (era Aries and beyond), but which can not abandon tense atmospheres. As on En Chemin, a trumpet and two saxes are beside. Trumpet and alto sax can be heard on excellent "Rah", while soprano sax veawes additional melodies on strongly middle-Eastern inspired 10+' "Al Abad". Overall, while quite Present-ish, they remind me of Tiemko's L'Ocean a bit. Musea had cut prices on both mentioned releases (from the previous sentence), and if you're interested, don't dither to grab 'em both. Quite good and quite recommended. -- Nenad Kobal
[See Ad Vitam]

Click here for Vitaly Menshikov's overall view on his ProgressoR web site
Click here to order these titles from Musea Records

Xang [France]
Updated 4/17/01

Destin D'Un RÍve (97?, 3-song demo tape)
Destiny of a Dream (00)
Xang - Matt Hooge (bass), Vincent Hooge (keyboards), Antoine Duhem (guitars), Manu Delestre (drums)

French band mixing ELP-style analog synth and organ soloing with the guitars and drums taking a more Rush approach. The keyboardist also uses some of the more digital keyboard textures for variety. A great combo for rockin' Progressive. Keith Emerson hasn't done anything this interesting since Works Vol. I. The only thing lacking is vocals ... Destiny of a Dream is purely instrumental, though the music is plenty complex to hold my interest. Supposedly, there are lyrics to the songs in both English and French ... but they are not performed on this release.

The opening is a spacey intro with perhaps a bit of a quote from "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey), then going on to some fluid electric guitar work a-la Alex Lifeson, and then some Emerson-like soloing on both organ and synths. There is also, perhaps, some hints of PFM or other Italian bands of that era, but it's mostly like Emerson (or sometimes Rick Wakeman) sitting in with Rush. This is some great musicianship.

The music almost seems to tell a story, but without lyrics or much of a CD booklet, the story line can go off in just about any direction the listener chooses. (The commercial product supposedly comes with a 24-page CD insert booklet, but my promo copy was missing this, so I had to use my imagination). The music is too keyboard-oriented to be Prog Metal, though the guitars definitely riff hard and also take blazing solos with Geddy Lee style bass lines churning underneath, but adds these really tasty keyboard chops over the top. Fast-paced, inventive and fun to listen to! Recommended. -- Fred Trafton

(Left) This photo of Xang drummer Manu Delestre was taken 4/14/01 during the band's gig in Belgium. I didn't know they were such fans of Gibraltar!

Photo by John "Bo Bo" Bollenberg - thanks!

Click here for Xang's web site on Progradio
Click here to order CD from Galileo Records

Xen [USA]
Updated 10/13/06

Xen (96)
Master of Night (99)
Xen Live (04?, Recorded around 1999)
Xen - David Bagsby and Kurt Rongey

Xen is an eclectic mix of musical styles. They have aspects of symphonic progressive all right, but also equal parts neo-classical chamber music, "classical" electronic music (a la Charles Wuorinen or Morton Subotnik, not Klaus Schulze), RIO and maybe some soundtrack music for horror movies thrown in for good measure. Both David Bagsby and Kurt Rongey show their virtuosity in both keyboard playing and composition. These are excellent and very serious albums ... unlike some of Bagsby's solo work which sometimes gets a bit silly between serious parts.

The composition of the pieces on these CDs was helped along using random elements and mathematical relationships. (All music is, in a way, but not like this!) The photo above shows Bagsby rolling a set of dice. This is a totally staged picture, but suggests what was actually done during composition of these songs ... the use of "other very obscure methods; Fibonacci Series, square/cube roots/stochastics/playing cards" helped to create the music here. Of course, the random elements are held under tight control by these two brilliant composers, and the result doesn't sound all that random, though it does sometimes take off in unexpected directions, or have unexpected harmonies, etc. I assume these were suggested by the random elements.

So what does it sound like? Somewhat like Zappa at his most serious, especially some of the things he did for awhile on Synclavier. But also with some less melodic elements which become more like "sound sculpting", though never mellow enough to be "ambient". Perhaps a bit of Thinking Plague in there as well. And it's all played very fast ... I don't know if I should complement the composers or their sequencer software for this. I would guess it's a mixture of both. Really, it's pretty unique, and I recommend it highly ... but be prepared to listen, this is not music to put on for soothing background wallpaper! -- Fred Trafton

[See Bagsby, David | Rongey, Kurt | Underground Railroad]

Click here to order Xen CD's from David Bagsby's web site
Click here to order Xen CD's from The Artist Shop

Xhol [Germany]
Updated 1/10/01

Electrip (69, as Xhol Caravan)
Hau Ruck (70)
Motherfuckers GmbH and Co. KG (72)
One of the coolest and most little known of the krautrock bands, Xhol were a rock fusion quartet who could be quite lewd for a progressive rock band with their version of "Rock Me, Baby" fused into the middle of one of their side long jams on their self titled Xhol (also known as "Hau-Ruk") But their best was definitely the aptly titled Motherfuckers GMBH and Co. KG a classic in the field of progressive. Beginning with a Faustian radio static sequence, we are thrust into the world of rockin' jazz fusion with a wah-wahd sax lead. Great stuff and musts (if you can find them) for the krautrock fan. Previously Xhol Caravan, who released one very rare album.
Before Xhol Caravan, they were Soul Caravan, released Gettin' High in 1967.
Xhol (Caravan) took the "underground" ethic to new dimensions. Electrip is an amazing record. The music comes off like high-energy psychedelic prog-jazz-rock, full of wailing electrified sax-riffs and electronic effects, and freeform freak-out acid jamming and intense rhythm grooves, especially on "Raise Up High" which takes up most of the second side. The live Hau-ruk, with just long improvisation on each side, is quite similar, though a little less focused, and also suffers from a lack of studio effects, though it is still a very good album. Motherfuckers (which on the CD is attributed to Xhol Caravan, though on the originally LP cover the Caravan is crossed out), is a collection of archive recordings, dating from before Hau-ruk. This one is another A-one classic, with more variety than Electrip, and much more experimental in places. -- Rolf Semprebon

XII Alfonso [France]
Updated 8/23/09

The Lost Frontier (96)
Odyssées (99)
Claude Monet - Volume Un, 1883-1889 (02)
This Is (03, Live, Recorded in 1998)
Claude Monet - Volume Deux, 1889-1904 (05)
Under (08)
Original entry, 5/28/02:
Odyssées (Musea FGBG 4303.AR) is the second album from XII Alfonso, a French group consisting of drummer Thierry Moreno and multi-instrumentalist brothers Philippe and François Claerhout, helped out by an infantry platoon's worth of guest musicians. The album seems to be a kind of umbrella under which as great a number of styles as of instruments and guest musicians is explored. The obvious references with many tracks would be the 1990's versions of Camel, Mike Oldfield and even Pink Floyd, with laid-back tempos, glossy synths, warm melodies and soft, crystalline guitar work that can occasionally fountain into a brilliantly emotional solo. Traditional studio tricks are borrowed as well: the Apollo 11 transmission recordings are added to "Eclipse" to make it sound even more like something out of Alan Parsons' series of pulsing instrumentals, and vocoder vocals appear on "Message 95". Despite the obvious references, it's not note-for-note plucking, as the melodic writing is original enough and mixes in flavours that are more French than is the case with any of the abovementioned artists. At its best, the result is something like "Ou Vont Les Amants?", a sumptuous ballad featuring the warm and graceful voice of Laure Oltra, the compositional and keyboard talents of Mickey Simmonds and also hints at a Vangelis influence (in some of the harmonies and reedy, vibrato-prone synth sounds). At its worst, it comes close to new age in being a little too much exquisitely polished surface and non-involved mellowness (the title track), and too little compositional salience, though I wouldn't say it ever really falls into the kind of sugarcoated hollowness that marks the genre.

There is also a stab at a rather conventional mainstream rock in the catchy but unremarkable "Invisible Links (Part 2)", written by two Argentinian musicians, with instrumental overdubs by XII Alfonso. However, there is nothing conventional or digital about "Lithophonia", an instrumental tune played entirely on stalactites (those instruments retro enough for you?); it's a different matter altogether how listenable one finds it. The Claerhouts can also do very elegant things with just a couple of guitars and a keyboard. Towards the end of the disc the cultural influences from outside progressive rock's Anglo-American heritage come more apparent and generally make things harmonically and texturally more challenging: there are Arabic scales and melodies, along with Frippoid feedback guitar work and loose, jazzy rhythms, on the dauntless "Noria", while "Dominique Larrey" has Spanish-influenced acoustic guitar melodies and uses these in combination with towering electric guitar soloing and bagpipe-like keyboard sounds to build to a strong conclusion.

Odyssées may not be the most original album, but the sheer range of influences drawn from and the often clever and tasteful way they are manipulated distinguishes XII Alfonso's effort from simple-minded rip-offs. Those with ear for polished and mellow modern prog should be pleased with this one. -- Kai Karmanheimo

Updated 8/23/09:
I've been building up a collection of the latest XII Alfonso releases for quite some time now, so I guess it's about time to talk about them in the GEPR. The first thing to say is that Kai's descriptions of Odyssées (above) are also quite relevant to the sound of the three CD's I have, detailed below. If you're looking for metallic heaviness, high notes-per-second counts, extreme complexity or avant difficulty, then look somewhere else. XII Alfonso is "easy-listening" prog, which you can listen to or allow to go into the background while you're doing somethin else. It's mellow and mostly instrumental, and does indeed bring to mind a French-imbued flavor of Camel or Mike Oldfield, and there are synth parts that could be right off of a Vangelis album. It also sounds a bit like Minimum Vital or Vital Duo, and indeed the Payssan brothers join XII Alfonso on This Is.

This Is is a live album, recorded during concerts in 1998. The quality is excellent, and the instruments come through as clearly as if they were recorded in te studio. Ths band on stage was huge ... one insert photo shows 11 people taking a bow at the concert's end, though I suspect some of these may be techs or sound people, but there are at least 9 musicians named. This Is is still mostly instrumental, though there are a couple of vocal cuts, sung by Caroline LaFue in English. She has a beautiful if somewhat "generic" voice (I hate to say that ... she sings beautifully, she just sounds like about a thousand other female vocalists). Several songs also use a "nasally" keyboard patch, which together with the way the guitars are being played, almost has a "bagpipe" sound, and these songs come across as "celtic-flavored". Whether this is their intent or not I'm not certain. There's also both "medieval lute" style acoustic guitar and some heavier guitar parts that make this music genre-bending while always remaining smooth and easy on the ears. Much more diversity than you'd expect from a live album. Nice, mellow music. I could almost call it "new age", though if so it would be on the more interesting end of that spectrum.

Claude Monet - Volume Deux, 1889-1904 is instrumental except for the spoken-word sections that introduce each cut, which are evidently supposed to be narrations by Monet This album is lavishly packaged in a digipack with a huge booklet containing images of the paintings and settings that inspired the music, plus historical notes on the life of Monet in both French and English. The songs are doubtless inspired by the paintings, and sometimes I can feel the relationship between a painting and the music (though sometimes I can't). Regardless, the music is excellently composed and recorded in a variety of easy-to-listen-to styles, with frequent use of accordion and woodwinds along with the guitars and synths. This is what really give the album a "Frenchy" feel, I think. An easy recommendation, and a good intro to XII Alfonso.

XII Alfonso's latest effort is Under. Overall, it's quite like Claude Monet Vol. 2, but there's more non-melodic synth noises and studio-tricky effects than on Monet 2. Though it's all instrumental from a "no lyrics" perspective, there are lengthy spoken-word sections with music wrapping around the words. These speeches seem to be lifted from old movies or newsreels. The electronics and studio gimmickry reminds me of the newer Alan Parsons Project albums, or even the nearly-prog Enigma project albums. Under is a good album, but seems like it's trying to gain a wider audience by trying to be less "prog" than it was before. Nevertheless, the musicianship is outstanding, and there are enough interesting twists and turns to keep it from being boring, at least to my ears. I don't know why just about anyone wouldn't like this music, including those who wouldn't have the patience for a "real" prog album. If that seems like a back-handed compliment to a GEPR reader, so be it. Personally, I liked Under, though I can't say it will be spending loads of time in my CD player. But that's just because I have so many other bands I want to listen to (and need to listen to, for reviewing purposes). Try listening to some cuts on XII Alfonso's MySpace page (see links below) and decide for yourself. -- Fred Trafton

[See Ar Bras, Dan | Minimum Vital | Simmonds, Mickey | Vital Duo]

Click here for XII Alfonso's web site
Click here for XII Alfonso's MySpace page
Click here for Vitaly Menshikov's "overall view" of XII Alfonso (reviews of The Lost Frontier and Odyssées only)
Click here to order these albums from Musea Records

Xisle [USA]
Updated 6/17/05

Winter's King (85, Demo Cassette)
Nexus (86, Live, Cassette)
The Phantom Zone (86, Live, Cassette)
The Invisible People (86, Live, Cassette)
Proving Ground (87, as Painted Bride, Cassette)
The Independent Space Program (88, Double Cassette)
Novins (88, Live, Cassette)
Journey Into Darkness (88, Live, Cassette)
Perchance to Dream (89, Live, Cassette)
Eternity's Engine (89, Live, Cassette)
Aural Explorers (89, Live, Cassette)
Novins 2 (89, Live, Cassette)
The Space Age (89, Live, Cassette)
The Sound Museum (92, as Van Zyl, Gulch and Rath, Cassette, Re-released in 2001 on CD)
Xisle - Chuck van Zyl, Peter Gulch, D. Andrew Rath

Related to the Nightcrawlers through Peter Gulch, a Nightcrawler member. Xisle, however, is derived from Chuck van Zyl's name. I have heard two cuts from two different albums, "Invader" from The Phantom Zone and the title track from The Space Age. "Invader" is similar in style to the Nightcrawlers (no surprise there) and late '70s Tangerine Dream. It starts out in a very ambient mode but soon the sequencers kick in ala Tangerine Dream. "The Space Invaders" starts out with some radio chatter between rocket and ground control then moves into the electronic spacescape. While the obvious comparison is to T-Dream, the rhythmic pulses also call to mind "Welcome to the Machine" by Pink Floyd, as well as a few other elements of Wish You Were Here. Pretty decent electronics, actually, and a little more original in concept that the Nightcrawler's eponymous release.

[See Kolab | Nightcrawlers]

Click here for Synkronos Music's web site. You can access Xisle's information from here.

Xixxo [USA]

Down the World (95)

[Pronounced "Zik-zo."]

Xolotl, Bernard [USA]
Updated 6/23/05

Journey To An Oracle (71)
Music of Xolotl (77)
Procession (83)
Return Of The Golden Mean (83)
Last Wave (84)
Mexecho (91)
Synthesist. Return Of The Golden Mean features Cyrille Verdeaux of Clearlight, Procession and Last Wave have violinist Daniel Kobialka.
[See Clearlight | Verdeaux, Cyrille]

Xploding Plastix [Norway]
Updated 11/21/01

Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents (01)
Xploding Plastix - Hallvard Wennersberg Hagen and Jens Petter Nilsen
Photo: Lisbeth Nilsen

Xploding Plastix is a hard band to describe. Combining elements of remix House Jazz and '40's detective film or horror movies with electronics and sampled voices, this album is certainly not like anything I've ever heard before. The samples, keyboards and electronics are interesting, but this album (in my opinion) is about the drumming. XP claims to have been influenced by big band jazz drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, but I'm not that familiar with their style, so that doesn't do me much good as a comparison. I would describe this drumming as very loose, with lots of flams and rolls, and also use of brushes instead of sticks. It's heavy on snare, hi-hat and bass drums without the usual toms. Sounds like the drummer has no bones ... it seems like there's snare happening everywhere except the downbeats.

Their debut album Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents is divided into short songs, instrumental with occasional odd spoken voices thrown in, saying pointless things like "More power to ya, you may be lonely but more power to ya", or "What's wrong with naked?" Most of the words make about as much sense as the album title. The whole album is so warped, I don't think it can be called anything but progressive rock, though I would have a hard time figuring which label in the Genre Guide it should go under. I recommend it if you don't mind the House remix aspects of it, particularly if you like unique drumming. -- Fred Trafton

Click here for the Xploding Plastix web site