Reviews16

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DEEP PURPLE –
Space Vol. 1 & 2
Live In Aachen, Germany
Purple Records 2001
Don’t be fooled by a shoddy package recreating the artwork of one of the most famous bootlegs – the sound’s much better than one might hope for. Too many live albums released, DP fans’ thirst for more is unquenchable so here comes a time for boots to be refined and out. This July 1970 recording, known as “Space”, or “H-Bomb”, comes from Aachen rock festival, which is the reason for omitting the material off the then freshly released “In Rock” album from the set and keeping in more conventional frames. With unconventional improvisations, that means. Instrumental side emphasised, there’s not much of Ian Gillan, featured only in “Black Night” and 34-minute “Mandrake Root”, and that’s good because vocals are the only thing recorded poorly due to the overload.

Beginning with a soundcheck interpolating a brief “Child In Time” quote, the show is one flow of a hot lava erupting through four tracks to a gloriously wild climax: Ritchie Blackmore smashing his amps to the bits. No words are enough to express that magic interplay the band were capable of before they became more song-concentrated. While in “Wring That Neck” Blackmore goes jazzying and grooving along Roger Glover’s bass – heavy metal time was yet to come – the real commander of the battle is Jon Lord, whose Hammond and Moog roar and squeak and, among other classical pieces, take in Grieg’s “Mountain King” – incidentally, Ritchie’s signature tune since mid-60s. There are soft places which made BLACKMORE’S NIGHT medieval drift no surprise for old fans, yet “Black Night” is a pure fire thanks to Gillan aligning his voice in unison to guitar – the trick is born – and Ian Paice’s ferocious drumming. Paicey’s solo provides the foundation to “Paint In Black” showcasing everybody’s skill to be a unit tight – and beautifully spaced out. Space truckin’ caught at the start.

***** – for collectors only
 

HERMETIC SCIENCE –
En Route
Magnetic Oblivion 2001
This is Ed Macan’s band, and Ed Macan’s a reverent writer on progressive rock, so his knowledge of the subject is both readable and, here, clearly audible. Moreover, every album is a foray into some philosophical study, “En Route” being a reflection on Huysmans’ works, so it’s all extremely clever, tasty and holding a surprise: while on the band’s sophomore effort, "Prophesies", it was a piano version of ELP’s “Tarcus”, now offered is Holst’s “Mars”, played by many a prog hero. Given more synth treatment, where ARP string ensemble has a prominent role, this “Doomsday mix” is not as threatening as in CRIMSO rendition, though the theme’s feel is conveyed brilliantly, prefacing “En Route: A Suite”. There are four parts in it, the main, “Against The Grain”, divided into four movements itself. Mars, the bringer of war, so welcome to the battlefield of spirit!

Dark storm fills the space between bassist Jason Hoopes’ romantic piano and Macan’s heavy organs – Moog falling like rain, Hammond roaring like beast, ARP string encapsuling everything to let out in the anxious calm. It’s in the second movement that Macan’s trademark vibes start to show in light enigmatic strokes before Moog enters the spotlight for a shaky fragile dance. Touching jazzy ground, dance steps become assured with bass providing pearly safety string in the “Mars” tempo which finds its way into Hammond-led war march. And grinds to a halt once pipe organ calls to “La-Bas (Down There) mess – yes, a clasical form of toccata, dirge and fugue, except for organ/piano combination on the base of Joe Nagy’s thoughtful drumming.

If there’s a little surprise in this turn to Bach, “Raga Hermeticum” is something to savour and meditate to, when Hoopes takes a sitar, Macan blows recorders and touches a harpsichord while Mark Mayo gets credited for burning incenses. The result’s a stunning brew of Indian and medieval music that dissolves in “En Route”, primarily a concerto for piano and orchestra, where the latter is all other keyboards. It all may seem an endless enigma, unless you pay attention to the “Tempus fugit, vive memore leti” motto. That’s the key.

*****
 

MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP –
Be Aware Of Scorpions
Steamhammer 2001
If there’s a pun in the title, the humour’s wrong: Michael’s sibling’s band still bite while MSG become more and more stingless. Very problematic is shallow attitude somehow running towards Schenker’s ’70s work, which is funny once the opening number suggests “No Turning Back”. Maybe, feeding “How Will You Get Back” to UFO could make sense for keeping the edges rough. Too much leader’s activity with his old band and with his solo hand goes down on his own band. Still, there are strong riffs and delicate guitar web is woven but overall the music’s hardly proves interesting. Perhaps, except for Gillan-esque “Blinded By Technology” dangerously balancing between old and new trends with acoustic lace in the beginning a real treat. “Sea Of Memory” comes equally heavy and too artificially modern, although there’s a worthy chorus, remindful of Graham Bonnet, one of the new singer Chris Logan’s predecessors. Logan appears to have no identity of his own to show off and goes for rather familiar melodies he takes responsibility for – “Eyes Of A Child” and “Fallen The Love” good examples. Good in all senses, yet is there a catchy melody in even more funky “Because I Can” or in “My Time’s Up”? Only a hint of real rock’n’roll that comes a bit closer with “Age Of Ice”; that’s true – some aging musicians grow a beard and lose a fire, flames of which blink in ragged groove of “Standing On The Road”. Fortunately, Schenker always has a rabbit in the hat and when you gnash your teeth to “On Your Way”, slinky bass line and exquisite guitar save the day. A narrow escape indeed, as you feel no soul herein, whatever dumb “Reflection Of Your Heart” is about. Who the hell needs reflection! “Roll It Over” is the simpliest rock and it smokes. So roll it over, guys, leave scorpions in their hole.

**3/4
 

ELLIS – Three
Foolish Art Music 2002
Ah that’s a prime funk – cooking! There’s a cool force in the trio of bass playing siren Stacey Ellis, classically trained guitarist Brett Ellis and drummer Mike McFarland, a little combo with a big panache and justified bravado. It takes good guts to cover Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” even if there’s a BECK BOGERT APPICE version to align to. Leaving no doubt in their ability to rock the joint, ELLIS turn to their old friend Glenn Hughes who Stacey duets with in “Growing Wise” lush soul. Emotionally brimful, sublime gospel chant comes forth in the end of “Have You Seen Her” – hot spacious groove, whatever funky it is, betrays swampy blues tones, clear in two instrumental numbers, Tommy Bolin-like “Mashed Taters”, and “Couldn’t Make Her Stay”, written by another great late, FOGHAT’s Dave Peverett. Attitude’s larger than life, which doesn’t seem an exuberant superlative after listening to no-nonsense “Looking For Love”, foxy lady on the run rather than woman’s lament. “Happy To Be Cool” holds a statement in its threatening bass, then?

Lash and dash, chick on the prawl is swinging “Grace” and slinky “Use Me” provocation – hellhounds howl wildly, but one step further lies a true desperation: ignoring majestic nerve of heart-wrecking, wrenching “Cold North” would be an unforgivable crime. Still, ELLIS have quite a versatile way of approaching a drama, no reservation of painting “Slide” with icy music hall strokes outlined by Brett’s exquisite strumming that lingers to “Empty Pockets” to explore the ZEP’s “Rain Song” cold harmony before letting a sling unwind. No wonder, “Throwing Stones” may blind with its deceptive simplicity until the real verve springs out of tight sonic knot. Letting it loose to put ELLIS into charts feels long overdue.

****
 

DOMINE –
Stormbringer Ruler
Dragonheart 2001
Duller and duller, as Alice might say falling into another heroic metal well DOMINE dug with not much of an imagination. The subtitle reads, “The Legend Of A Power Supreme”, and there’s an eponymous instrumental intro – perhaps, the most soft piece on offer, as “The Hurricane Master” commences a relentless sound chase too poor in melodic terms to catch an ear. Omnipresent Bach harmonies coming from guitar are hardly attractive as well, let alone orchestral keyboards set against simplistic bashing in “True Leader Of Men”. Still, once it’s Wagner’s turn to help out with “The Ride Of The Valkyries”, that improves: Morby’s voice approaches operatic clarity to deliver brilliant epic song – one of the best in the genre, unlike quite common drift of “The Fall Of The Spiral Tower”. In order to keep it all together, four parts of “The Chronicles Of The Black Sword – The End Of An Era” are scattered around the album to further confuse a vague concept. Playing, whatever qualitative it is (and it is), doesn’t matter much here, since “Horn Of Fate” just makes you wanna sleep. Boring, despite some folk motif, until it gets purified in acoustic glory of “The Bearer Of The Black Sword” before weight is gained and focus lost. Luckily, there’s always a piano-led serenade “For Evermore”, sung very heartfelt, vibrant and sincerely enough to savour. This one’s not pretentious while 11-minute “Dawn Of A New Day – A Celtic Requiem” is. Which is dull save for some vocals-emphasised spots and a stealth from THIN LIZZY. Not DOMINE’s battle, really.

***
 

FINISTERRE –
Storybook
Moonjune Records 2001
FINISTERRE proved themselves the apparent heirs to Italian prog glory, and “Storybook”, recorded in 1997 at the Progday Festival in the USA, clearly demonstrates how appealing and compelling their music is. Well, initially, once “In Limine” breaks in, you’re smitten with Sergio Grazia’s flute swirl yet wild guitar of Stefano Marelli moves one-legged ghost out of the picture, effortlessly switching from blues riff to art rock brush and, along with Boris Valle-operated keyboards, to jazzy picking. Altogether they paint an eeriely enigmatic landscape boasting their classic roots rather than hiding them, and if gentle flow of “Oriazonte Degli Eventi” may only vaguely hint on CRIMSO’s “Night Watch” – ah that medieval court dance in the middle! – then there’s a full-blown bash in fantastic “Phaedra” which involves quotes from “Schizoid Man”, “In The Court Of The Crimson King” and Steve Hackett‘s “Firth Of Fifth” solo. Sticking to their instruments, musicians are impressive, that’s not the case regarding vocals which feel more like reciting, not singing. Until “Hispanica”, where Fabio Zuffanti, loading off his bass figures, joins voices with Marelli, who weaves a flamenco-like sonic lace. Music stretches onto improvisatory waters with “Altaloma”, players coming into spotlight one by one and at the same time supporting each other. All tongue-in-cheek – don’t miss funky riff borrowed from “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the middle of things. Except for drums – but they loom large in the weird drama of “Macinaaqua, Macinaaluna”, and if this time it’s Mozart’s turn to help the proceedings then GENESIS palette comes in hand for “Asia”. A bit of Arabic is the only melodic link between music and the title yet what an interplay is here! It rides majestic into wonderfully and unmistakably Italic “Canto Antico” (and staring to “Crazy Diamond”, incidentally). So forget neoprog: this “Storybook” is clever, essential read.

*****
 

TEN –
Far Beyond The World
Frontiers Records 2001
Signs of rot seem to show now in TEN, and listening to this album explains why month before the release guitarist Vinny Burns left the band for Gary Hughes to stick to his own devices. Overall a solid melodic metal work, “Far Beyond The World” isn’t equal to its predecessors lurching to cliches on the way from the glorious opener “Glimmer Of Evil” to closing title track. The former feels great, filled with guitars interspersed with thoughtful keyboards and moody singing remindful of songs Hughes writes for Bob Catley, and what an infectious chorus there! On to “Strange Land” (a riff rather primitive) and “Outlawed And Notorious”, and that’s basically ’70s glam, so warm yet too familiar. Then “High Tide” exemplifies TEN’s approach – soulful and clever – but it’s here where the edge starts to wear.

Paul Hodson’s organ pulls in “Scarlet And The Grey”, which could turn out good had it not been so stretched out from hard rock to prog pop and, thus, feels thin enough, while “Heart Like A Lion” sounds more adventurous in drums and piano interplay – unfortunately chorus like that we had so many times before. The same could be said about “Black Shadows” though it cuts cute, just like late RAINBOW. Everything rolls down with awkwardly reggae-ish bombastic “Who Do You Want To Love?” And what else can “What About Me?” be – not too many questions for one album? (eh, it’s one more!) – but a piano-led ballad, quite maudlin with all its orchestration, another radio-friednly AOR staple, which “Last Of The Lovers”, featuring Steve McKenna’s swelling bass part, strangely isn’t. That’s powerful blues in it, and it holds the strongest impression of all – an exquisite acoustic guitar solo. The title track proves sweet as well with traditional harmonies akin to those used on "Spellbound" yet not as catchy. No spell this time – TEN went too far beyond the world.

***4/5
 

FIREFALL – Colorado
NMC Music 2001
If EAGLES ever were to be rivalled, that might be only this band, whose only drawback was a belated start. Their pedigree, though, proved to be more blue-blooded than just Linda Ronstadt’s band, with Jock Bartley coming off Gram Parsons’ FALLEN ANGEL, former BURRITO BROTHERS Rick Roberts and Michael Clarke, plus SPIRIT’s Larry Burnett and JO JO GUNNE’s Mark Andes. Those make for three guitars, four singers line-up equal to EAGLES on the songwriting base as well. Live, they were great too, to which this live recording from 1979 is the best document showcasing FIREFALL’s magic rapport from David Muse’s flute in “Cinderella” to fitting “Just What You Need” encore. Chugging like a train, slide guitar and harmonica build to scorching country blues, so arresting in bass-driven “Mexico”. And there’s a delicate side to them – who’s to stand indifferrently “Just Remember I Love You” (great guitar/sax unison) or similarly titled “Goodbye I Love You” poignancy? The latter shares a riff with wonderful “It Doesn’t Matter”, a hit Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman and Stephen Stills scored a couple of years before. Not to burst in tears, you can do what slinky “Get You Back” prescripts.

The further the hotter, slapped bass of “No Way Out” signalling of funky time to get high with jazzy improvisation approaching “Soul Sacrifice” vibe. Then, EAGLES comparisons pop up again, as “Lips” jives not unlike “Life In The Fast Lane” – “Anymore” feels “brutally handsome” too – and “Colorado” sounds as a new “Desperado”. Still, all these are pretty melodies catchy on arrival, always adventurous as “Strange Way”, which boasts a frenetic flute solo, and easygoing as “Livin’ Ain’t Lovin'”. Currently in circulation, FIREFALL might be an opportunity missed, but their music’s really “Sweet And Sour”, as particular tune goes.

*****
 

RING OF FIRE –
The Oracle
Frontiers Records 2001
Sometimes a collective feel isn’t a good thing, and here’s an illustrious proof. After a brilliant solo album, Mark Boals shaped his accompanists into a band and lent it the record’s title. Sounds good? Sounds bad! Given an equality, bassist Philip Bynoe, guitarist George Bellas, drummer Virgil Donati and, above all, keyboard player Vitalij Kuprij squeezed a life out of Boals’ powerful voice. “Samurai” a showcase for way backwards? Isn’t “Shadows In The Dark” a re-work of “Jet To Jet”? Beatiful vocal intro breaks into same neoclassic stuff, which makes even piano-paved “Vengeance For Blood” a tad superficial: the beauty of the song lies in it balancing on the verge of balladry yet keeping up. No depth in vocals now, Mark riding on high notes while holding other parts of his register down. “The Oracle”, not a concept album but, nevertheless, has “Prelude” and “Interlude”, Bach-based pieces – the former shows all the wry humour, when the omnipresent Toccata in D Minor is quoted, and the latter’s a piano madrigal. “Circle Of Time” impresses in the beginning until organ-adorned boring guitar cut is made. As good a song as it is, it’s hard not to think of not a big difference between this band and Malmsteen’s, whom Boals has just parted from.

Oh, after a visit to Japan, why not spill a Chinese synth splinters for “City Of The Dead”? Together with “Dreams Of Empire” and “Land Of Illusion” it demonstrates a potential not released fully: with all the seeming complexity of instrumental parts, none is developed, as well as top melodies, unlike one of the almost operatic title track. Well, Kuprij shines and outshines Bellas but leaves Boals at the sideways to belt out for himself. Then, you have to take “Take Me Home” plea almost literally – it’s here where piano, voice and guitar create sublime unity. So closing “Face The Fire” grind is a late warning, and a thought of the ring’s endlessness worries a lot.

***1/2
 

EDENBRIDGE –
Arcana
Massacre Records 2001
One of a kind thing, another sweet if dull attempt to marry metal with opera – “Ascending” overture is majestic! – with a certain sterility oozing out off the cover itself. Peel this feeling off and stick to Sabine Edelsbacher’s solid gold voice instead of precise mechanic drumming, and you’ll have classic ’70s pop rock poised well between Andreas Eibler’s guitar and keyboards of Lanvall. That’s a Blackmore-ish move to take a medieval dance and build on it “The Palace”, then “Fly On A Rainbow Dream” approaching RENAISSANCE and shift to acoustic frailty of “Moment Of Time”, which is sublime. Maybe, even too much. At the same time, while there are NIGHTWISH, title like “Starlight Reverie” sounds like pun. And music too, after a couple of songs interest gets lost, no thrill of it all lying in rather familiar flow of “Color My Sky”. It hardly makes sense to make a song long, though EDENBRIDGE are clearly obsessed with epic visions coming up with not only not touchy by any stretch “Velvet Eyes Of Dawn” ballad but also almost 10-minute long title track of a highest standards. Stepping away from balladry onto riffs, as bombastic “Into The Light” and “Suspiria” show, the band gets a grip of a listener to let it loose with the “Winter Winds” slow blow. Their arcana might be no mystery, yet one longing to be enchanted – be it!

***1/5
 

DAMIAN WILSON –
Disciple/
Grow Old With Me
Cosmas Records 2001
It all started with Damian’s lifelong desire to record Lennon’s classic and ended up as an impressive package of two EPs – the format dear to every Fabs fan. The first is the “Disciple” album which evolved from the second one, inasmuch as “Grow Old With Me” served a spring board for the singer’s collaboration with the City of Sheffield Youth Orchestra. Here’s a whole story cut short in the booklet illustrated with Wilson’s children’s sketches, the album’s addressed to, but the result is stunning because the recording took place at the Abbey Road and, filmed by the BBC, became a little event in itself. Comparing it to John’s version hardly makes sense: “Grow Old With Me” remained nothing more than a home demo, that George Martin later adorned with strings, so new this arrangement isn’t and vulnerability of the original certainly feels spoiled. Get away with it, and we have an uplifting paean to love impeccably delivered by Damian and his “Les Miserables” partner Alex Sharpe – maybe a bit sterile yet bearing a disctinctive BEATLES feel even in piano and orchestra interaction. Possibly, in order to try this method, Wilson re-worked two songs from his debut, "Cosmas", “A Monday Night In March” and “Just The Way It Goes”, making them more reflective than before. There’s deep sincerity in Damian’s music winning over immediacy, even though each melody is up for taking and cherishing. If some of them – “Never Close The Door”, say – may seem too chamber, once folk enters the picture for “Heavenly Mine” and “Nothing Without You”, it’s so easy thinking of how great late Sandy Denny might have sung these tunes. Singer wrote “Just The Way It Goes” when a teenager and he succeeded to carry his innocence through the years, so while Damian comes up with plaintive ariette “Nothing Left In Me”, that’s not the truth.

Truth lies in “Beating Inside” gentle lullaby or Christmas vibes of “What A Man Can Dream”, inner feelings pouring out from “In A Word”, a message to Wilson’s father so full of love to leave no doubt of how huge an understanding Damian shares with his own children. It’s them he calls his disciples in vibrant title track with the tears and Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” shade hidden well. And there’s another quality to it, the universal feel urging a listener to join the chorus of “Brightest Way” – how many a song about a marriage not an affair you have nowadays? Moral values are precious in Damian’s eyes, “Part Of Me” a statement – yet there are more questions arisen from younger days, pain of growing up told in dramatic “Adam’s Child”. This is tragic, especially from a man who depicts himself “Quietly Spoken”: “In this life there are times we cannot explain”. Oh let’s try – for meek shall…

*****
 

QUEENSRYCHE –
Live Evolution
Metal-Is 2001
The title says it all, already the classics, RYCHE report on their achievements in a 2CD-set of concert renditions of four suites with three picking on two consequent studio albums. Given such a chronological treatment at this point of the band’s career, there’s not that much of a real evolution process on display, it’s rather a whole piece of work even without early and late songs mingling. Michael Wilton’s and Kelly Gray’s guitars and Geoff Tate’s voice cut the slice immediately with “NM 156” though no use denying their works of that period musically leaked from MAIDEN, which is more prominent now, when they grew up, Eddie Jackson’s bass in “Walk In The Shadow” a proof while “Roads Of Madness” off debut “Warning”, here linked to sophomore “Rage For Order”, clearly shows these guys had to go their own road – and, unfortunately, lose the innocence of “London” and “The Lady Wore Black” on the way.

Glory came in 1988 with “Operation: Mindcrime”, presented on “Evolution” almost in its shining entirely where, sharply proclaimed in “Revolution Calling”, another development path lurks, and folk thread hides in “Spreading The Disease”. Live, the cycle strikes maybe more than distilled in studio. Not the same with songs woven into “Empire/Promised Land” suite, a bit heavier but poorer from melodic side, like “Damaged” may show. Tate puts on different, lower register for that part in order to sound mature, which doesn’t go well, except for betraying FLOYD’s “Comfortably Numb” influence “Silent Lucidity” and wonderfully poppy “Another Rainy Night”. Much better when it comes to “New Frontier/Q2K” with fusion of “Falling Down” that showcases Scott Rockenfield’s thoughtful drum patterns. Yet at this point the music becomes less and less interesting up to yawning at “Sacred Ground”, so “Hit The Black”, a glance back, is good as wake-up call. Hardly an opportunity to be evolving further – now the band should heed the call, revolution calling.

****1/3
 

PINK CREAM 69 –
Endangered
Massacre Records 2001
If anyone ever doubted what those two digits in the band’s name mean, now there’s no use interpreting them erotic way: inclusion of THE WHO’s “Pinball Wizard” off 1969’s “Tommy” magically shows the collective’s roots, theirs hardly more than mod rock given a bit of heaviness to turn to melodic hard rock, just like in “Shadows Of Time” and “Trust The Wiseman”. And why not trust real feelings: when “Promised Land” shoots from ballad flow to dramatic chorus the tears in David Readman’s voice are on your shoulder. To draw this lot of compassion takes an equal measure of sincerity worn on the sleeves for vibrant “Shout!” holding a lot of panache in its anthemic swell and Dennis Ward’s thumping bass. The dare is quite justified with totalitarian appeal of “He Took The World” or sheer stadium energy of “Don’t Need Your Touch” underpinned by sneaking drums from Kosta Zafirou. It’s all well balanced, so plaintive “In My Dream” follows headlong “Enslaved” to build a tension, which Alfred Koffers outlines impressively with his liquid guitar in “High As A Mountain”. Not a weak tune in store, “Endangered” is what it says – a rare bird these days, and when the bonus track goes “One Time Is Not Enough” that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do – spin it on, if only for “Wizard’.

****4/5
 

STEVE MARRIOTT’s ALL STARS
– Clear Through The Night
NMC Music 2001
It was 1975 and Steve Marriott was on his own again, still not keen on launching a solo career. So, after a short stint with Alexis Korner’s combo Steve came up with ALL STARS, which, for the sessions, included his former HUMBLE PIE colleagues Clem Clempson, Greg Ridley and Tim Hinckley among others. Everything ended up eventually as “Marriott” album, and it was out of question what direction Steve would pursue: sure, R&B. Yet, before firing off anew, Marriott delved into classics with Sam Cooke’s “Shake” turned funky and THE RONETTES’ languid “Be My Baby”, but if, rendered faithfully, those hold a little surprise, major kicks lie in Elvis’s playful rockabilly “You’re A Heartbreaker” and, most of all, “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, as far removed from Dylan’s original as can be – a pure soul with vocals passed around to various ensemble members. Even THE SMALL FACES’ “Wham Bam Thank You Mam” got revived on the occasion, given PIE-like hard rock edge. In fact, the band’s material had made its way to the sessions too: “Street Rat”, enlivened by Ian Wallace’s percussion, appeared on the PIE album of the same name.

The rest were freshly cooked songs, like transitional in style “Midnight Rollin'” or “High ‘N’ Happy” that rightfully appeared on THE SMALL FACES’ 1977’s “Playmates”, standing close to the Mods’ early cuts. The same honky tonk swagger distinguishes “It’s All Over”, which may be considered a sequel to “All Or Nothing”. But free, Steve would gracefully slide from straight “Ruthy” blues to joky “Bluegrass Interval”, with those “marginal” songs much tastier than funk of “Don’t Take But A Few Minutes” or “Cocaine” – pityfully, not J.J. Cale’s one, like “Signed Sealed” had nothing to do with Stevie Wonder’s hit. At the same time, “The Things You Do” slow burn, adorned with Mel Collins’ sax, might pretend to be produced by Motown team, while “Lord Help Me To Hold Out” wears a Stax influence on its sleeve, and it’s easy to fancy Otis singing universal “I Need A Star In My Life”. Marriott’s were ALL STARS, and that’s a crime they didn’t hit the sky.

*****
 

GRAVE DIGGER –
The Grave Digger
Nuclear Blast 2001
There’s a good sign in a band giving their name to some album down the line rather than the first one – THE BEATLES and METALLICA illustrious examples – and definitive article only adds emphasis to it. It’s all down to old school, where power riffs like that of the title track, are born. The twenty-year experience shows in heavy music played very easily to capture one in a hurricane drive of opening “Son Of Evil”. Another privilege of renown artists is they can hide not their influences, what DIGGER do in SABBATH-shaped “Scythe Of Time” with its swell bass and slow-burn riffs turning into wistful strum, and then “Funeral Procession” calls out in the night to join it. Bells toll, “The House” a ballad? Yes, deep feelings spilled out stretching from acoustic softness to orchestral ouevre. Chris Boltendahl’s vocals might sound a tad forced yet newly recruited Manni Schmidt’s guitar rocks with solos melodic to a bit making “Haunted Palace” a decline towards bombastic trap. How beautiful is solemn organ preceding sharp attack of “Raven” that pulls in quotes from Edgar Poe – thick darkness of the night conveyed perfectly! And who’s that vocalising in gentle “Silence” – Ozz taking avenge on his “Changes”? Ah, it’s OK if sometimes all sets aside to straightahead metal, like in “Spirits Of The Dead” or “King Pest”, to win again with infectious choruses the pinnacle of which comes in furious “Sacred Fire”. A hot stuff in a cold cemetary.

****3/4
 

JOHN MINER’S
ART ROCK CIRCUS –
A Passage To Clear
Tributary Music 2000
In this case “art rock” hardly means a genre, rather a concept for a kind of a thespian scenery soundtrack. There’s a story told, and the songs serve as illustrations to it, but the storyline feels abstract and cold, and so are the songs, warmed only by John Miner’s guitar flowing electrically around delicate percussion in “Stranger Of My Find” crazy flamenco-way while vocal paint an enstranged picture of “The Promise” unresolved. And sure, Kelton Manning’s bass, those velvet sustained notes, they make creeping “Underground” pace enliven the set to give a sax and a plaintive violin a chance to burn – is it a new “Three Penny Opera”? It’s that stony, “Clear” reeking of strangling urbanism, even “Love” comes as angular wave, less romantic but lusty, guitar builds a tension that’s hard to ignore. No dissonance in sound yet the feeling’s delivered perfectly to dissolve in gentle “Shadows Of Style”, for the first time here vocals are so touchy to put acoustic strumming back. Still, what goes forward in “Goodbye The Lie” deep water is Steve Hackett ghost, much impressive than all those DEAD CAN DANCE associations, which are up for taking for the overall reference. Oh, ZEPPELIN casting a shadow on “Strange” is strange indeed, but bluesy intonations go somehow naturally to be compellingly mesmerising drawing on free jazz tribal trance in “Poetic Injustice”. “Heaven”, that’s beautiful and close to traditional art rock with a marching bass, liquid guitar strata and a tune remindful of THE BEATLES’ “Good Night”… and a “Jailhouse Rock” riff tagged on the end before “Cosmic Cobwebs And Lollipops” baroque court dance kicks in. Soft mist comes down again, and this is “Alone” insatiable loneliness with a hint of hope luriking. A pessimistic passage, really.

***1/2
 

FOUNTAIN OF TEARS –
Fountain Of Tears
Mental Music 1999
Virtually a double-shot, this album efficiently proves that sometimes a top vocal line can be left off for music to retain its appeal. There are only five songs on offer with each one reflected in an instrumental version – minus Anna DeRose’s voice, the only living “creature” in cold Gothic settings that perfectly deliver a mood of “The Sleeper” based on Edgar Poe’s poem. An illustration to “The Valley Of Unrest” that “Survive” takes you in, and orchestral feel, close to RENAISSANCE’s thanks to Jeff King’s alluring piano sweep, are given a dramatic edge by classical-scaled guitars courtesy of Mike DiDonato. In “She Wants To Be”, though, guitars come woven firmly into mix to complement piano, so the “metal” tag suits the music only to a certain extent – the measure’s the same as in BLONDIE’s “Call Me”. Call it an alt progressive metal, if you like. Clever but without a sentiment, you may expect from a female-fronted band.

Another thing is that in absence of a memorable tune – “Carousel” the best example – music tends to be shallow, and here’s the reason why it comes so easy to get rid of voice and not to lose. When piano and guitar do the talking on their own, the drift remains the same – even in “Real”, where vocals reign before dissolving in organ fading too early. Mystery of the band is still to be unveiled. Ethereal and ephemeral.

***3/4
 

JACK BRUCE –
Doing This… On Ice!
NMC Music 2001
It’s just a shame Jack Bruce has been overlooked, if revered, as a solo artist after leaving the trio he became a star with. That wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the band Bruce had wrapped himself in in the early ’80s, stripped of egos in favour of music, exceeded CREAM. The group, captured here live in November, 1980, were four greats: Jack’s jazz leanings got solidified with none other than Billy Cobham on drums, David Sancious, former Springsteen associate, on keyboards and guitar, and guitarist Clem Clempson, eager to jump back to fusion vibe after his stint with HUMBLE PIE. And the vibe’s on from the off when the leader of the pack soars up a cappella for some lines of “Tightrope” he will yet return to during this show to eventually grind it to a standing ovation with 15-minute encore of “Bird Alone”, his most accomplished paean to Charlie Parker, embellished by Sancious piano frantics.

How wonderful from initial wave of jiving bass and slide guitar shapes up the “White Room” magnificient intro! The only drawback is rough mix, which puts Jack’s singing and playing, magical as ever, too frontal up to fully overshadowing others in places, like Sancious’ guitar solo in “Born Under A Bad Sign” freely morphing into cosmic jam. Bruce, for his part, feels just glad to let his friends shine: David adds funk to bouncing “Hit And Run”, spice to “Post War” cranky reggae and blistering solo to “Theme For An Imaginary Western” Clem used to do in COLOSSEUM but now he comes up with wailing “Clem’s Blues”. There are blues enough, harking back to CREAM days – “Traintime”, “Politician” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” – all sublime!

Still, it’s never a hits package, classic material neatly sat in alongside fresh songs off the current “I’ve Always Wanted To Do This” album, such as “Living Without Ja” groovy rock, “Facelift 318” psycho nostalgia or “Dancing On Air” smooth drama, each piece driven by four fantastic strings, which thread through “Escape To The Royal Wood” instrumental fairy tale to wake up to “Morning Story” ringing. Not icy but hot and heartfelt.

*****
 

EMPIRE – Hypnotica
Lion Music 2001

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Are we witnessing the birth of a new guitar hero? If "No More Obscurity" was quite an eclectic debut from Rolf Munkes, this time the challenge of its title comes resolved in a project with some big names on board. For one, bass duties are fulfilled by seasoned legioner Neil Murray, and then there are Mark Boals warbling and Anders Johansson drumming on a couple of tracks each, while the main work is in the hands of Munkes’ old friend Gerald Kloos and BALANCE OF POWER’s Lance King’s throat. And Rolf himself, now more focused and sharp, kicking off “Fool In Love” in neoclassic style yet dangerously leaning towards old-time metal riffage instead of melodic playing. Still, it rocks on, especially as Boals lets his voice shine, he’s versatile in register and, getting high and low, is wonderfully easy: these two songs boast most accomplished top vocal lines and inspired playing – what a solo Munkes shoots off in “Into The Light” and “I Will Always Be There”! Alongside them, King’s take on simple glam drift of “You’re All That I’m Looking For” and “Bad Bad Boy” feels too shallow. That’s not so good for a master to be dependable on the others, but for gentle “Spread My Wings” it works, acoustic guitar weaving around piano and gaining momentum when Hammond fills the ether – there’s Don Airey running the keys, firm as ever. What only proves that Rolf’s talent as composer reaches its best in slower songs, like “Here I Am”, because seen here is the depth that has to be developed further to hypnotise as in classically-steeped instrumental “A Different Sign”. Now it mostly doesn’t, however hooky “Shelter” may be, that’s why “Back To Me” loses. Seems, Rolf The Emperor knows it if says, genuinely rock’n’rolling, “Another Place, Another Time”. He wins, who knows.

****
 

DREAMTIDE –
Here Comes The Flood
Frontiers Records 2001
There’s no surprise in that three former FAIR WARNING members – guitarist Helge Engelke, keyboardist Torsten Luderwaldt and drummer CC Behrens – plus former THUNDERHEAD bassist Ole Hempelmann and JACK’S HAMMER singer Olaf Senkbeil had cut a brilliant record, but what wasn’t predictable is that it would come out so pathetic. WARNING had something for their successor to inherit – a soft spot for QUEEN panache, which shows off in anthemic “Dreamers” – up to May-ish guitar lines. But what was natural for great late Freddie is another band’s poison. All the anticipations from artwork remindful of Storm Thorgeson aside, here comes a disillution rather than flood of pure feelings – even ballad “Heaven Knows” turns too solemn, and if tribal “Sundance” and opening “What You Believe In” hold a good swagger, it gets lost along the way in too heroic attitude and bombastic production – with due respect to superb musicianship.

Going astray to originality, like in Oriental-sprinkled “Crashed” or surprisingly fresh heady rock’n’roll of “Your Life”, they hit the target and make wonder how it could sound live. Simple licks and humour of the latter are something to savour. Then, had “Promised Land” been more cutting, there would be a kick-ass terrace chant, but heartfelt soul of “I Take The Weight Off Your Shoulders” is the strangest thing on offer falling out of concept, though getting close to the FOREIGNER drift with “Cross The Line”. Warm instrumental “Phoenix Tears” doesn’t bring the flood either. Maybe next time.

****1/3
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