PATRICK BROGUIERE –
Read the interview
|For those whose introduction to Patrick’s music began with "Mont Saint-Michel" this early work of his may seem strange yet fascinating. There’s something of David Cross in “Museum (Part I)” but the violin broadens the boundaries on to the point of full orchestration enshrouding a listener with some atonal splashes. Then an exquisite piano line springs out and here it is, good old church organ we miss since “Going For The One”. The music gets beefed up and unexpectedly turns a rock when drums kick in and guitar soloes at full throttle. That’s what aeons ago was called sympho rock! But once you’re ready for that kind of stuff there’s “Ceci N’est Pas Un Braque” comes – pure new age both Howe and Wakeman stepped in for a while. Guitar and violin sharpen the focus while piano draws a Debussian short piece “Dies Ist Kein Braque”, one of several vignettes scattered around the album, and flute goes for rural “Sweet Home” adorned with arresting punctuated guitar solo. A real treat. Maginificient pavane is “Parade” followed by a melancholy “De L’Amour” led by swinging sax and adorned with slide guitar.
The title track has all Broguiere’s weapon on display – piano, flute, synthesizers, guitar – and is it a clarinet? – weaving an ambient-cum-classical tune. Slower and more modest in its beauty is “Petit Clown”, a sort of old-fashioned waltz making you get up and look for a partner to dance with. Programmed drums prove too ludicrous yet they keep the tempo and don’t irk a bit. “King Arthur”, another vignette played by harpsichord, comes as a kind of joke – OK, a good part of “Icones” is full of humour – but serves as a bridge to “Museum (Part II)”, which is stronger than the opening track, developing its theme but re-visiting parts of other pieces such as “Ceci” as well. Magical medieval structures approached with contemporary feel build up something as unique as arresting. While it seems water testing, the album ‘s odd yet cohesive and easy to get used to because it appeals to literally everyone.
HOUSE OF USHER –
Body Of Mind
House Of Usher 1999
|These guys think serious, they have a newsletter of their own, stuff for sale, strong following – all on the back of the only album. Must be a killer, one supposes and won’t get wrong on hearing the music that comes unexpectedly etherial and pure proggy. It’s even difficult to pinpoint “Faith” in the beginning for sticking a label on it. No need to dig the Seventies well – better go for the contemporaries as PENDRAGON and IQ who drink from the same source. What’s on display is velvet keyboards and fluid guitar supported by jazzy rhythm section and voice bearing no signs of the genre pivotal singers. Folk dance bouncing at the start of “Don’t Remind Me” may place the band in the TULL or GRYPHON category if not for hard rock manner applied. Maybe ballad too poshy but piano moves save the impression. A little dose of ASIA-like pop seems fitting as well which can’t be said of all too theatrical title track with quite elusive melody. Acoustic piece “Timne” sounds as a compensation for all too complicated yet raw instrumentation of “Body Of Mine” – although the solo’s extremely good. “Obsession” is contemporary progressive to the core, cold and oulandish with Frippian guitar licks across Daevid Allen madness hiding in the shadows and Robbie Williams-like pop warmth in vocal. Very eclectic up to losing the point but should be great on-stage.
“Bewildered Serenity” powerful start appears to be deceptive as the canvas the band opted to paint on is strangely coloured with shadows outshined by the light stretching to the crystal sky. All the changes and moves create the image outlined by the title. Richard Kaczynski’s piano switch from classical scales to folk just like Emerson’s machinery. Don’t be surprised when Richard puts out a solo album in his original style that’s far from Wakeman, Orford etc. That piano plays mighty “911” – what a treat! And next, ringing synthesizers get in with soulful “Chimes” filled with bass and a guitar solo remindful of Eddie Jobson’s violin tricks in UK.
All the forces seem to be kept to the end of the album to get released in epic “C’est Pas Finit”, a masterpiece incorporating many influences from the past to the stunning result. Prog, jazz, folk – all melts up to come up with some witches’ brew. The music grows into you and prompts to play the track time and again and you still remain unfed. If that’s the kind of material USHER are to present on the sophomore release, their newsletter threatens to turn glossy. So, bonus track titled “Iceberg” just underline there’s more than meets the eye.
Noise Records 1995
|The end of the Nineties saw the power metal revival and KAMELOT seem to be obscure pioneers of the process. Their debut “Eternity” harking back to 1995 was a confident effort. The most impressive in the beginning come keyboards that lead into the title track but once the serene mood of intro gets cut with Thom Youngblood’s guitar it becomes clear what we deal with – a top-notch heavy metal. With Youngblood a main composer no surprise vocal melody isn’t as strong as guitar hooks. Mark Vanderbilt’s voice sounds strong while approach not so imaginative and a little too theatrical as “Black Tower” shows. What’s good is that KAMELOT don’t pursue the speedy trend in the vein of “Red Sands” and stick to uptempo mini-epics, there’s even some of “Holy Diver” spirit contained in “Call Of The Sea”.
The first sign of tedium appears as early as track 4, “Proud Nomad”, with too much of MAIDEN, a primary influence, herein. Well, that was the first KAMELOT work which is rather clear when energy oozing out doesn’t compensate for the lack of good melody. Thus, “Fire Within” wins over blatant “Warbird”. Musicianship’s solid throughout anyway with the players’ abilities glowing in acoustic lace of ballad “What About Me” and baroque-tinged “Etude Jongleur” with riff borrowed from PURPLE’s “Hungry Daze”. If “Eternity” was KAMELOT’s hungry daze, they survived and prospered deservedly.
The Seventh House
Giant Electric Pea 2001
|After the success that “Subterranea” was it appears quite difficult to get back on the track with something no less good. THE BEATLES after “Sgt. Pepper” came up with decision of going back to basics and variety they put on the “White Album”. IQ set to keep the faith and continue in the same vein of conceptual progressive material they’re known for. Nothing new to “The Seventh House” and anyone hardly expected novelties from the band at this stage of their career. They got over “Subterranea” and continue as if that double-disc item wasn’t there at all. “The Wrong Side Of Weird” is atmosperic funky tune close to epics of YES.
Outlandish harmonies and catchy interplay colored lightly work for impression that the band tried to ditch themselves to prog canon they’re too big for now. And they do, accumulating energy to let it out in small portions. The most impressive part is entwined guitar and bass, not the vocals and piano. Nicholls voice comes to fore to lead a listener into throbbing ambience of “Erosion” with screeching riffs and thundering bass work. Piano and guitar build a stunning effect in “The Seventh Hour”, which grows on you until you’re hooked with poignant lines “Oh, my angel in black water” underlined by organ and drums punctuation. Martin Orford added even more – a bit of his piano spot. New masterpiece on display.
Mainly acoustic ballad “Zero Hour” adorned with sax solo gives an indication on how IQ will sound when they go for “unplugged” show – which they’ll soon embark on, for sure – until Mike Holmes breaks into great lyrical solo. What seems lost now by the band is their humour – a pity. Some of it peeps in “Shooting Angels” with its “Gone are the days when heaven could wait” drift but now the situation’s such that we’re in awe what’s IQ capable of after this album. Although “Guiding Light”, a ballad turned epic, makes hope for better.
Between The Sky And Earth
Artland Records 2001
|Israel rarely gives a birth to anything worthy in terms of progressive music but now witness a new entity, ARTLAND, the band consisting of the guys hailing from former USSR. Maybe it’s their struggle for inner freedom that determines ARTLAND’s approach to instrumental epics. “Vote Of Heaven” comes based on folky motifs with synthesizers delivered flute and bagpipe and liquid jazzy guitar interspersing polyrhythmic structures. Seems, there’s no sense in the titles as they strike no accord with the music.
There’s an interesting difference in guitar playing with one of the guitarist overtly showing his love for metal while the second flies around his riffs – two versions of “Real Peace” is an illustration. In this piece bass goes dancing around keyboard solo in the Moog mode. Something remindful of Steve Hackett appears in another Celtic-tinged track, “It Will Be Still Good”, that sounds as if came from “Till We Have Faces” with irksome unimaginative drumming. “Travel To Life” is the most atmosperic and spaced out of the whole collection and could be categorized as ambient or new age. Synth rain with an acoustic guitars strain and a good dose of funk to enliven a picture. “Something Lyrical” is such, indeed, yet unfocused a bit and may resemble the Steve Howe collaboration with Paul Sutin.
“Between The Sky And Earth” proves a mature work overall and while the band consider it a demo it’s frightening what they will come up with for real album.
GLASS HAMMER –
Arion Records 1995
|That one doesn’t look like a concept album yet it is, from the point of expression, not the cohesive storyline. If compared to the band’s previous album, Stephen DeArqe and Fred Schendel did find the balance between their keyboards’ approach. Thus, bass-laden “Time Marches On”, preceded by unremarkable intro “Now Arriving”, comes strong the singing a weak point notwithstanding. Some of GENESIS influences added to the whole picture with Wakeman-esque soloing retained. More improvisation applied to “Lluision” which later on turns into good ballad – HAMMER appear capable of quality melodies! And if to prove that again they present a new version of “The Way To Her Heart”, a song originally from “Journey Of The Dunadan”. Yes, the subject is so evergreen to be in place in any context – with a new solo attached. And what a treat is funnily titled “Felix The Cat” an adaptation of the Fourth movement off Mendelsohn’s Fourth Symphony, an adaptation Emerson would be proud of!
Curtains go down and up again with another ‘nothing’ thing “Now Departing” – still not the end, despite the piece called “Le Danse Finale” with amazing sax solo, there’s “Perelandra” theme comes in before. If “That Hideous Strength” supposed to be a dialogue between LLuision and the Lion it gets lost as the music flows across. Nicely structured lullaby “Into The Night” which eventually reconciliates a story and a melody could make for a fitting end if GLASS HAMMER wouldn’t go celestial with rather needless “Heaven”. Too excess for then.
IAN PARRY –
Noise Records 2000
|Ian Parry is a famous master of progressive metal and here’s the fourth album of his recorded around the time of “Forbidden Fruit” by ELEGY the singer fronts now. Many would recognize Parry though by his part in AYREON albums. Arjen “Ayreon” Lucassen reciprocates and appears on “Shadowman” with his guitars alongside Jan Bijlsma and Oscar Holleman who he played with in VENGEANCE, HELLOISE’s Ernest van Ee and Rene Merkelbach of GOREFEST. Thus, a result is predictable – a killer album.
It rocks from the very beginning, a powerful “Through Those Eyes”. The influences, vocal approach and instrumentations come perfectly balanced in a tight knot. Once a scene is set for a story to be told, the dramatics grow and keyboards intro leads into the title track, which is less imaginative on the melody side. But it’s good for keeping a story. “The Palace Of Hell” enshrouded in thick keyboards one can deem as a new song by DIO – or RAINBOW: sounds too familiar to enjoy yet not to be happy it’s got used one more time. “Wildhearts”, “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers” and “Can’t Go On” harking back to the Eighties metal have more originality to rock well, while “Still The One” appears as a parody. A new trend in prog-metal? Children voices call the protagonist back and heavy beat cuts in “Turn Back The Tide”, a gentle piano-ridden ballad with anthem-like turn which makes it possible to savour Ian’s voice.
Bass sways as if illustrating the anxious theme of “Run”. Not unlike SABBATH sounds strangely mixed (too much of vocals) “No More War” co-written with Misha Calvin. Was Ian influenced by Paul Rodgers or David Coverdale? Seems so when he takes, accompanied just by acoustic guitars, on wonderful “Watch The Wind Blows”, that, together with “Tide”, is worth the whole album. After this one, ripe rock’n’roll of “Bad Business” comes too excessive. And when “Dreaming It All” begins in a pure progressive way you hope it’ll remain so, but no – riffage again… and a short acoustic guitar solo courtesy of Arjen who came up with light bouncing melody for “Tell Me Why”. Better that would be the end yet Parry opted for more traditional epic-like “Only Lies” for finale.
A must for nostalgic souls and prog metal afficionados.
Giant Electric Pea 2000
|Seems, to the date it was only FLOYD and GENESIS who came up with stage version of their concept albums, “The Wall” and “The Lamb” respectively. Now, once IQ gained a certain status in the prog world, their another ambition fulfilled. We can only surmise what did it cost them to overcome the fright of live recording they experienced with “Forever Live”. With “Subterranea” their confidence is firm.
If liner notes in the booklet are supposed to outline the story, they don’t and it remains hazy with some insight into its existentialism a la “The Lamb” – with this Mockenrue, the stealer of dreams, cellars and Maya as a new Lilywhite Lilith. On the musical side, the band managed to reproduce their masterpiece live perfectly. “Overture” might lose some of exquisite piano line yet comes beefed up with organ. Synthesizers are more prominent in the live situation while all other instruments rock powerfully – listen to the swaggering bass in “Sleepless Incidental” – and Peter Nicholls in top form. Extra sound effects were added surprisingly as they usually abundant in the studio product first.
Defying a studio sterility IQ let themselves go and poured a good dose of dramatics into the performance and, in live environment, even the second part appears worthy getting into. Another tasty addition is Tony Wright’s sax solo. “The Narrow Margin” sounds really majestic – especially with that folk dance incorporated.
But with all the album finess and musicians proved great once more, with all the minor changes if compared to the studio album, the live set is one for the fans. Others will go for either of two “Subterraneas”, not both. The show, judging on the booklet photos, was a treat though.
SPACED OUT –
Unicorn Records 2000
|Looking at the artwork and at the band’s name you may only wonder what kind of music they play. Seems like metal? You cannot be more wrong as SPACED OUT work out a top-notch instrumental jazz-rock. Exquisite and clever to the core. The reference point immediately coming to mind is WEATHER REPORT, mainly due to the fact that the primary instrument here is bass, pumping and swinging as that of great Jaco. Well, REPORT were more than only late Pastorius and a little bit heavier and versatile than SPACED OUT, but it’s the band’s debut in the end of the day, isn’t it? The mastermind behind this Canadian combo is Antoine Fafard who plays bass and operates programming. From the opener “Green Teeth” you feel trapped in this fluent improvisation led by fantastic guitar in the vein of Alan Holdsworth, that’s underpinned by synth splashes. Murky in approach comes “Toxic” with everchanging tempo commanded by bass lines. Jazz fans might put it in the “easy listening” category while those into prog would be fascinated if they like Wetton/Holdsworth interplay of UK.
A certain classical music scales pop up here and there and there’s even something from baroque in “A Freak Az”, a really spaced out thing. Bass soloes alongside guitar in laid-back “Magnetyzme” followed by quality prog ballad “Delirium Tremens”, guitar pretends a sax in atmospheric “The Fifth Dimension” – and here you start to simply float downstream. So no surprise on introduction of African polyrhythmic structures with “Futurosphere” and “Starless” vibe in “Glassosphere”. The band touch more down-to-earth rather than spaced out base here yet it really doesn’t matter.
WISHLIST – Erased
|Having in mind the band’s name, what’s on the cover is undoubtedly wishing well. Use your imagination and the music strikingly accords with images conjured up. Your drift is predictable, not music so the opening track’s titled “Critical Strike”. A minimalist thing throughout. Piano splashes come in followed by guitar soundscapes while it’s neither Cale nor Fripp you may think of. You don’t muse at all, floating downstream thoughtlessly. An ebb that’s what it is, the ripples sometimes calm, sometimes throbbing fiercely. More jazzy appear “Lucky Stones” and “Empty Field”, ambient tunes that bear soft vocals in the vein of “Atom Heart Mother”, guitar may show some resemblance to Steve Howe’s yet altogether an approach spacey. In “Coin In The Water” phased guitar weaves an Oriental motif and the drums kick in to punctuate the fluctuation. An acoustic guitar you hardly might expect to peep in when “Erased” starts; the title track makes all the band’s mechanics crank up. Two short pieces, “Passing Days” and “I’m Going Far Away” add nothing to the picture and at that point it becomes unfocused. Thus, “Distant Place” seems too distant to perceive where it’s at. If “Beneath Her Eyes” an answer, it’s persuasive.
GLASS HAMMER –
Journey Of The Dunadan
Arion Records 1993
|“Journey” was a debut album of the band that now reached a cult status in the progressive community with their latest work, "Chronometree. As many of prog newcomers, back then HAMMER took Tolkien for an inspiration. Classical harmonies delivered by piano/synthesizers combination of “Shadows Of The Past” immediately points to ELP as influential force while there’s more behind it and you can trace Wakeman-like touches in “Something’s Coming”. Singing isn’t what the band handle well – not in terms of vocal but of melodies. It feels like there’s just holes in the musical canvas between top-notch instrumental run-ups. With narration present the effect created reminds of “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” or “King Arthur”.
Jazzy bouncing is welcomed in “Song Of The Dunadan” and here focus gets lost. And regained with brilliant acoustic ballad “The Way To Her Heart” re-recorded two years later for the “Perelandra” album and a drunken ditty of “The Ballad Of Balin Longbeard” given a flute decoration. Great piano menuet of “Khazad Dum” turns to pastoral tones in “Nimrodel” with CAMEL connection intended but “The Palantir” sounds very thin while potentially it could be unravelled into mighty epic. Equally, “Morannon Gate” seems to be a failed attempt of going hard rock – guitar work is excellent yet something’s lacking. Yes, that feeling depicts all the album through – OK, it was the first album in the end of the day. More was to come.
Giant Electric Pea 1998
|On the twentieth year of IQ presence in the world they’ve reached their peak – no doubt. Without diminishing the band’s previous work, it’s quite natural concluding that “Subterranea” is IQ’s magnun opus. All the experience accumulated, the quintet introduced new elements to this work. “Overture” serves as it ought to – setting the mood but Martin Orford‘s managed to entwine strong piano part in bombastic guitar/organ canvas, making the piece majestic and close to the RENAISSANCE “Prologue”. Well, that’s what it actually is. Next, Peter Nicholl’s voice comes to the fore with short yet intriguing “Provider” and many would think of Bob Catley here. No pause, the drums cut in to punctuate synthesizers lines and, melody retained, there’s “Subterranea”, the main theme. Note Mike Holmes’ funky guitar. Witness a parallel? There was many a funky guitar on “The Wall” – in “Brick Pt 2”, say. Having another double album – the conceptual, too, about hard world – it may be difficult to avoid comparisons. “Subterranea” appears to be different, more light and not as depressive. Sax, for instance, only underlines the album’s jazziness. The songs are stitched seamlessly, one flowing into other and though catching the story line doesn’t come easy, the music’s great. Pure prog in places – in “Sleepless Incidental” it oozes roght from the title.
Funnily enough, while always comparing Martin’s touch to Wakeman’s ot Banks’, nobody would mention Jon Lord’s influence. Here it is, in “Failsafe”. Take off your shelf any live album from PURPLE which contains “Burn” to see the point. Anyway, the effect of IQ’s piece comes from fantasy guitar melody as a counter to down-to-earth vocal approach. And again, fantasy vocals as opposite to bouncing piano. Once the band lets their hair down soloing that’s the real sound feast where John Jowitt’s bass is hard to underestimate. “Speak My Name” could be a ballad too sentimental (with Wakeman’s “Julia” popping up to mind) if not for acoustic guitar solo.
Hard rock is “Tunnel Vision”, isn’t it? Only in the beginning, before the band go for late Seventies’ GENESIS style. Theme introduced with “Overture” returns on “Infernal Chorus”. Paul Cook’s drums create a dark atmosphere interspersed with keyboards work and vocal attack. “Subterranea” theme is back with “The Sence In Sanity”, a fitting outro paired to Steve Hackett-like landscape of “State Of Mine”.
If the band stops at this point, they may have been praised high as heaven – but they decided to go further. And the second part seems an addendum, hardly more than that. “Breathtaker” is another “Tunnel Vision” yet tiresome. The problem is focus lost. “Capricorn” may be jazzy and folk-tinged but melody has no hook in it – except for the main theme lurking in the shadows. While instrumental “The Other Side” comes pleasant, “Unsolid Ground” fails. In “Somewhere In Time” Martin at last remembers he plays a flute yet opts for taking the sound from his synth, a pity. Little by little momentum’s regained. The theme returns one more time in “High Waters” before IQ embark on 20 mins epic “The Narrow Margin”, a story in itself with a funny spot where Martin’s organ plays what sounds exactly like Ken Hensley‘s part in “Look At Yourself”.
A mighty thing, though, cut in two, “Subterranea” would work better. But that’s the price you invariably pay for having a double album.
At The Dawn Of A New Millenium
Unicorn Records 2000
|In the interim before establishing new singer in the ranks Canadians MYSTERY decided to put out a compilation of songs from the band’s three albums. One can say for sure they’ve come from Eighties hard rock yet with no poodleness of that era. Vocal approach, catchy harmonies and instrumentation of “Destiny?” point very likely to URIAH HEEP. As the Brits, MYSTERY balance on the verge of hard rock and progressive. No big difference between their albums – the band recorded their debut “Mystery” being already a self-confident unit. Piano and riffage combination of “Theatre Of The Mind” comes as catchy as big hits of WHITESNAKE. Gary Savoie’s voice and Michel St-Pere’s guitar licks keep you on your toes. Even more so in majestic ballad “Before The Dawn”, not mushy despite all the expectations.
Ballads play an important role in the band’s canon though somehow don’t feel tiresome – maybe thanks to acoustic guitar’s presence as in orchestrated “In My Dreams”, a little cliched and sentimental but enjoyable. “Black Roses” with its flute beauty appears remindful of KANSAS and a bit of late TULL – OK, who cares until you soar above the noise and confusion? What irks is that there’s too many ballads all in a row on to melancholy “The Inner Journey (part II)”. The ealiest of all, “Cinderella”, a typical Eighties “riffs-cum-keyboards” rock, gives a good insight into the MYSTERY background. Moreover, “Submerged” has rock’n’roll section interpolated, Gary even puts on a David Coverdale mask while Michel switches between Blackmore/Page influences. Unfortunately, “Shadow Of The Lake” in its 15 minutes stretches for an epic format, although the potential just isn’t enough for it – even with great musicianship.
After this compilation MYSTERY still remains a mystery – especially in terms of what will be next.
Noise Records 2000
|The powerful metal opus from professionals. Ian Parry works his lungs out and Patrick Rondat runs his fingers around. The two know their business well to keep the overall presentation balanced while Dirk Bruinenberg’s drumming sounds too mechanical to be irritating. The first track, “Icehouse”, doesn’t stand out and hardly serves to set the mood. From the guitar attack of “Force Majeure” situation gets better: nothing new to the style but now it’s melodic and many would feel the urge to join the chorus. The MAIDEN influence aside it’s a joyous ride. Tempo’s more imaginative in “Behind The Tears” and it’s now that’s easy to tell what part of material comes from the previous guitarist Henk Van Der Laars – the most melodic part. “The Great Charade” an illustration. The vocal melodies are by Ian Parry though which means his and Rondat’s personalities clash rather than complement each other.
Was Dio a mentor for creating a love song of “‘Til Eternity”, there’s his seal on this semi-ballad semi-rocker. By Patrick and Ian, by the way. A high point of the album with VANDEN PLAS’ Gunter Werno’s organ given a good spot. Organ gets changed for piano and there’s another ballad, “I Believe”, featuring magical acoustic playing from Rondat. If only Patick pulls his nylon strings more… But he opts for sitar on title track too raw to catch. OK, we were warned the fruit’s forbidden.
IQ – Forever Live
Giant Electric Pea 1996
|It’s not easy to approach the band you never before listened to beginning with live album. On the other hand, this casts a certain objectivity, doesn’t it? IQ impress, indeed. There’s not much original for the classic prog rock afficionados but who of our Seventies heroes still plays in the same vein? CAMEL?
The band cuts in softly with the title track of 1985’s “The Wake”. GENESIS ghost present with Peter Nicholl’s vocals while arrangement is different. Melody gets brighter with “Darkest Hour” and rest of the then fresh material – 1993 saw promoting the “Ever” album and IQ dropped down just two songs off it. Fans obviously were slightly surprised to hear such atmospheric songs. Despite musicians having butterflies in their stomachs, interplay between Mike Holmes and Martin Orford comes perfect while each of these key figures sounds very original, with no overt parallels to their predecessors in the genre. All the nervousness was gone with “Widow’s Peak”: sure everybody concentrates to deliver the IQ masterpiece properly. Audience feels privileged to be welcomed into wonderworld of yesterdays – comparisons unavoidable though they no way demean the IQ’s verve. Pete’s voice is restrained a bit and such is the band’s habit to retain energy to put it out little by little to a greater effect.
John Jowitt’s bass adds another dimension to keyboards-woven Eastern ornament of “Nostalgia/Falling Apart At The Seams”. Not knowing of the Nicholl’s temporarily absence from the IQ ranks, one can never tell he wasn’t the original singer on that pairing. And what a beautiful medieval dance Martin comes up with!
“The Thousand Days” gets delivered in a quite monotonous way but it’s all compensates with dramatic “Leap Of Faith”. On the contrary, “Human Nature” demonstrates progress of progressive rock (how else can you put it?) into Eighties with influx of pop and funk. And as if IQ made excuses they head into the most acclaimed song of theirs “The Enemy Smacks”. Smacks – and smokes. But everything is extremely logical – the stitching of old and new music. And the most logical – “No Love Lost”. It wasn’t lost in 1993 and isn’t now.
JOHN WETTON – Sinister
Giant Electric Pea 2001
|Poor John! CRIMSON fans want him to be more proggy, UK fans demand from him to be more foggy, HEEP fans ask him to be more rocky and ASIA fans would like to see him more cocky. So what? The new album would be a gift not for aforementioned categories but for Wetton admirers. And the album is very good – even without bonus tracks included on the Japanese variant entitled “Welcome To Heaven”, the only low point being the CD duration. No fillers though, just the songs to enjoy.
From the intro lines of “Heart Of Darkness” one can assume “Sinister” tends to be melancholic as “ArkAngel”. But no, it’s a work of a man who gets his kicks just of living. The song comes with powerful arresting chorus in the ASIA vein – a top-notch pop rock carving a niche in your ears and in your mind for some good days. Jim Vallance and John keep all the instrumental duties for themselves leaving John Mitchell of Wetton’s touring band to play guitar solo, good but not as bouncing as piano part. What’s upsetting is that there’s none of that pumping bass which holds a melody in itself, a trademark now down in the mix. “Say It Ain’t So” appears a typical Wetton tune, simple and joyful, yet a little pompous. “No Ordinary Miracle” starts not unlike “Emma”, with 12-string strumming, but develops into mighty McCartney-esque ballad, highly pleasant given a full band treatment with Jim Peterik and Martin Orford on board.
Song titles never were John’s strong point but they serve good to sing along to. “Where Do We Go From Here” is no exclusion – especially with drive and acoustic guitar that keep up this not so memorable tune, which seems designed to contrast with “E-Scape”, a short instrumental co-written and played by Wetton, Robert Fripp and Ian McDonald. The three worked together for the first time since 1974’s “Red”. Nothing special to Fripp’s soundscape drone while McDonald’s flute sings extremely beautiful – well, as usual. Wetton plays keyboards on that one so it’s closer to Fripp’s solo stuff.
And at last here’s a great drumming on the album (the one of “Say It Ain’t So” just irritating) with certain Greg Bisonett coming in for “Another Twist Of The Knife”. Those cymbals are fantastic, complimenting Dick Wagner’s guitar licks. Yes, the same Dick who worked with Alice Cooper. Uptempo piece that makes you dance – surely, a stage favourite. John’s singing comes so jaunty, one doesn’t pay attention to akward rhymes he came up with. All the JADIS sans John Jowitt lend their hands for piano-driven ballad “Silently”, co-written with Rod Stewart’s cohort Kevin Savigar and, thus, a bit mawkish – fortunately, the arrangement makes the tune sound more progressive.
John Young makes a cameo appearance to perform “Before Your Eyes” he had a hand in writing. Melodically it reminds of HEEP’s “Wise Man” and if not for Orford’s flute the song could be weak. More prog to “Second Best” featuring David Cassidy and Sue Shiffrin, who worked with Wetton before. Quite a familiar tune full of John’s cliches, isn’t it? So treat yourself with, maybe, the most awaited collaboration – “Real World” that John compose with one and only Billy Shears, Ringo Starr. Wetton never hid his passion for THE BEATLES and here he plays the best Macca he can, leaving Lennon’s role to Steve Hackett, who once again lets his harmonica shine. There’s only two of them and that’s enough. Songs not enough for hungry fan though, so why not give “Sinister” one more spin?
MARTIN ORFORD –
And Popular Songs
Giant Electric Pea 2001
Read the interview
|If you think the title says all, you’re far from truth as all the material here is original, no covers. Maybe that’s good – at least, that’s Martin’s solo debut and a chance to hear him apart from his bands and projects, although all his friends are present here. With a little help, you know…”The Field Of Fallen Angels” comes delivered by full JADIS line up plus David Kilminster, who worked with Orford in John Wetton‘s band. Wettons seems to heavily influence Martin’s singing, comparisions between the two in terms of vocals are unavoidable. Pure prog rock is the opener, lead by flute in the beginning and then by bagpipe – Orford set to get close to traditional music here and the result is somewhere near CAMEL. You can easily imagine it in orchectra treatment until all the band breaks in. Seventies’ feel, yes, – even Wakeman’s keyboards manner reproduced – but somehow the piece’s more fresh than IQ’s output while remindful of Manfred Mann’s “Crossfade”. Voice not strong but fitting for the music and if it conjures Wetton – especially with that punctuated bass by John Jowitt – here he is, on “A Part Of Me”, a good rock track while not up to usual Wetton’s stuff. Liveliness throughout thanks to Martin’s playing, Kilminster’s hooks and Paul Cook’s tambourine.
“Quilmes” may sound familiar to those following Orford as this pure piano piece in Prokofiev’s vein was released previously in live version on Wetton’s “Hazy Monet – Live In New York”. A wonderful work Wakeman would be proud of! That’s what stands for “Classical Music” in the title. “Popular Song” would mean piano-driven “The Days Of Our Lives” with soaring sax solo, it sounds not unlike QUEEN, the masters of pop – listen to Gary Chandler’s guitar lace. There’s a majestic chorus many other artists would tuck to the end of an album – a sign of Martin’s self-confidence. “The Fusion” appears to be a powerful instrumental kicking off as a baroque piece played on Harpsichord unless Michael Holmes attacks with Steve Howe-influenced hooks – and then there’s a magical interplay of two guitars and piano.
“The Final Solution” sounds strained with no bright melody and lack of drive. Synth solo’s strong though but nothing compared to acoustic guitar scherzo which is “The Picnic”, obviously inspired by Steve Hackett‘s “Horizons”. “The Overload” features Peter Nicholls of IQ handling the vocal duties and almost the IQ epic the song is, atmosperic and melancholy. Rachmaninov’s style’s applied to hymnal “Tatras”, which – as “Quilmes” – had its recorded debut on Wetton’s live album, "Nomansland". Now it’s not only piano but flute and orchestration as well yet stripped bare version was more solemn. The whole album in this vein would be warmly welcomed, no doubt. JADIS team is lured by flute into pastoral beauty of instrumental “Evensong”, modest progressive piece laden with piano splashes to end the story in high spirit. Story eclectic a bit – but ain’t it what the title suggested?
ASTRAL GROOVE –
Lion Music 1995
|ASTRAL GROOVE was a project of now renowned Finnish guitar player Lars Eric Mattsson. And the project was good and solid treading the beaten path of classic hard rock. Many would liken this material to Malmsteen’s as not only Lars’ licks drink from classical music sources but also Bjorn Lodin’s throat makes one think of Jeff Soto. Well, “Heart Of Stone” deserves high appraisal starting not unlike Santana’s samba and boasting of imaginative beat.
The accord between guitarist and singer is striking and there’s a certain problem because once they’re trapped by standard moves, as in “If I Could Fly”, none of them appears able to break the frames. And when you have 16 tracks in rather same vein it becomes tedious – even though sometimes the band introduce a sort of metal waltz of “Can’t Find A Way” with symphonic tones in it or sincere blues “Merry-Go-Round” featuring harmonica. Well, all the songs are short, at least, with just two over 5 minutes, with one of them, “King Of Lost Dreams”, a pure filler based on Grieg’s motifs. There are some bleak stuff, yes, “Not Fooling Me”, say.
It’s just a shame that such great performers gave up to metal cliches – ballads “Lonely Child” and “Until We Meet” sound mawkish despite all the guitar singing while “World Is Burning” banal despite the folky inserts. Funky “President” is of more interest. OK, that’s unpretensious and, thus, good. Even more so with “Tango In Sane”. It is.
LARS ERIC MATTSSON –
Lion Music 1998
|Having disbanded ASTRAL GROOVE after its only album, Mattsson went solo one more time – in the same direction in company of his old singing friend Bjorn Lodin. Even closer to RAINBOW this time – one can see “Gates Of Babylon” casting shadow on “Caught In Your Web”. Quite pleasant, anyway. Fortunately a bit of reggae rhythm applied to quasi-ballad “Just A Leo” allows to avoid allusions to a certain piece off “Machine Head”. Mattsson’s “Leo” with mid-tempo solo and pure Joe Lynn Turner intonations is funny – a rare thing in too serious heavy music. From this point “Messenger” which owes so much to MAIDEN – plus Eastern ornament – comes as a wry parody. And what about “Burn” riff incorporated into “Long Way Home”? What’s worse is that irony gets diminished further on. Ain’t it Glenn Hughes of the “Seventh Star” period taken as an example for “Sense And Obsession”? The song’s good and could be better had not Lars and Bjorn lent to the acknowledged masters.
After all the attacks you listen to exquisite acoustic beginning of “As The Sun Meets The Sky” in awe it will turn out as another rocker. Fortunately, it won’t, being a soothing ballad. A good part of the album is not so emotive – simply standard hard rock, as in “Eyes Of A Child”, suitably fresh for those who grew up on curly Eighties metal, not for PURPLE fans. Though it’s them who’ll lend their ears for “Lay It On The Line” scales exploring. No revelation, except for prominent rock’n’roll piano, bears epic long “And The Road Goes On”. Lifeless, a pity. Yet promising – but, please, no more obsessions with ghosts of the fathers.
Lion Music 2000
|Another dimension? Is MATTSSON a band now? Are we “dealing with an institution”, as HEEP put it? Likely so, although at the helm stands the experienced pair of Lars Eric Mattsson and Bjorn Lodin. With some names in guests’ sleepers present.
Oh, familiar Dickinson moves when “Hell” breaks free from the acoustic icing. The same old story of diggin’ someone else’s stuff. This time Lars’ guitar is even more speedy – but who doubts the boy can play? More imaginative and slower comes “Crash And Burn” adorned with pompous keyboards and supplied with Patrick Rondat’s solo while the second solo keeps reserved for Mattsson himself. The two worth each other yet the piece comes to a halt very abruptedly. After this, metal rumbling of “Don’t Change My Mind” appears to be just irritating and isn’t saved even by Erik Norlander’s synth solo. Violin sounding like a cello kicks in “Angel Blue”, a sentimental yet solid ballad, which shakes while not sends shivers down your spine.
Filled with cliches – that’s what is to be said of overall feeling from “Burn The Witch” on. Well, it’s kept on the surface mainly due to Par Lindh organ services. More and more Yngwie in with “Don’t Lose Your Patience” – what a bore! And keep your calm regarding lyrics and titles like “Save My Soul”. Grrrrrrrr! Thankfully, the title track is instrumental combining parts slow and fast and stitching ’em oh so well. And what could you expect of “Road Of Babylon”? A certain Manfred Mann’s tune taken a go at or Blackmore’s one? A bit of this, a bit of that and a bit of CINDERELLA’s “Gypsy Road”.
From the early Seventies prog seems to come “Wait For The Angels”. But, onto the end of the album, they hardly will come, the angels. The wailing sax to reggae of “Cry No More” notwithstanding.