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Monday, May 31, 2010

Renaissance - Prologue

This is another special edition review due to Renaissance celebrating their 40th anniversary while embarking on a new concert tour date this summer and working on a new album and an EP called, The Mystic and the Muse. Their third release in 1972 was the album that finally put Renaissance on the map, with the help of new female vocalist Annie Haslam. The band were almost in limbo due to new management disbanding the first mark of the lineup which featured Keith Relf of the Yardbirds fame, and featured new members Annie Haslam on vocals and keyboardist John Tout to create a new sound while the band were starting to get up to move from the psychedelic sound into more of a Classical Rock band.
While Ashes Are Burning got them recognition, Prologue was only the beginning for Renaissance in which would be their “debut” album. Formed in 1969, Renaissance was coming out of the ashes of the mod band The Yardbirds as two of the members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty wanted to start a new group that was experimental from the sound of Folk and early Symphonic back in London, England. The band consisted bassist Louis Cennamo, pianist John Hawken and Keith’s younger sister Jane as backing vocalist as they were about to embark on a tour in the summer of ’69, but only with Festivals in two countried at Belgium and France. As they were getting ready to go the United States, they knew they could not bring the sound to a wider audience as they dissolved, thus MK I was done, MK II was just the beginning.
Prologue was recorded during only new members with; guitarist Rob Hendry, bassist John Camp, and drummer Terrence Sullivan. Featuring a gorgeous piano introduction on the opening title track as an homage to Chopin’s Etude Op. 10, No. 12, is a dazzling symphonic passages that Tout does in this magnificent instrumental number that would mark the band into Symphonic territory. The introduction of Annie’s voice is heaven in the perfect sense of the word, touching while lyricist Betty Thatcher’s gorgeous songs fills with emotion and beauty including the love song boundary of Spare Some Love and the oceanic mood piano from Sounds of the Sea. Kiev introduces some of Tout’s piano compositions, reminiscent of Keith Emerson as John Camp makes his vocal debut with help from Annie as Hendry’s guitar almost sounds like a violin on this romantic story with a style of an eerie version of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
There is very much a folksy crisp on Bound For Infinity on which the instruments are very calm and quiet as the album closes with the climatic 11-minute epic, Rajah Khan. It starts off with Hendry’s guitar playing similar to Jimmy Page’s White Summer/Black Mountain Side as he takes over with a Middle-Eastern dramatic solo for the first two minutes as the band embark on an ambient Egyptian haunting instrumental with Annie’s vocalization coming up with an mourning organ solo and a dynamic VCS3 solo that won’t scare you, but will take your breath away for a mind-boggling jam. Prologue didn’t charted, but they received radio airplay in the states in Cleveland with the song Spare Some Love and soon they received word-of-mouth from Prog fans. Prologue still sounds amazing and ahead of it’s time, the influences continues especially from Welsh female progsters, Magenta.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Breathing Space - Coming Up For Air

With a strong influence of Kate Bush and early Marillion, the concept works perfectly. Breathing Space’s second album, Coming Up For Air is an explosive album from the brainchild of Mostly Autumn’s keyboardist, Iain Jennings. Formed in 2005 in the UK, Iain wanted to pursue a solo career and so he brought musicians, drummer Barry Cassels, guitarist Mark Rowen, his brother Ben Jennings on keyboards, bassist Paul Teasdale, and vocalist Olivia Sparnenn. What started out as a solo project has turned into a band that delivers a big surprise that no other prog band can try to endure?
Coming Up For Air, Breathing Space’s 2007 follow up to the solo work doe by Iain Jennings, is late ‘70s and early ‘80s New Wave of British Progressive Rock in the true sense of the 21st century. Since Olivia’s voice brings the Breathing Space sound to a new level, listeners will definitely accept the underground Broadway Rock musical sound that one of the songs delivered. One example is the mid-tempo upbeat number, Time Tells All The Unknown, it merges from an atmospheric Moraz-like sound to a tremendous beauty for the band to let go and flow. Opening with the balladry turned into ‘80s Neo-Prog sound of the title track, Breathing Space merge the synth of the cult following into the sounds with a heavy guitar sound that adds a pastoral interest.
With its influences and the burst of ‘70s Pomp Rock sound of Starcastle meets Styx, the homage of When I Hold Onto You is just one of the most melodic rock sounds that could have been used in the anime series, Gundam Wing as an opening theme and deals with romance and loss. Yet it’s On The Blue Horizon that is a magnum opus – a ballad that reminisces Genesis’ Afterglow and One for the Vine and comes with a singer-songwriting background that is very emotional.
The uprising structure of Rain Song, works with Iain’s piano work that creates a moody and rainy tone as you can imagine Olivia singing this number in a music video as she is walking by singing and looking into the sky as the rain pours on her as she keeps going while The Senses is very much a driven-number that has a Jazzy rhythm with the bass just pumping and the guitar following the car as it goes into the open road while the Sax gives it that pounding movement as he is on top of the car coming up with some notes as the sun sets in the deserted sky. Don’t Turn a Blind Eye is very much an acoustic folksy sound.
The vocals add melancholic compositions as Olivia and Jennings bring the influential prog sounds on the table to make it very calm and soft. Head Above The Water, brings Olivia into the limelight for another mid-tempo rocker filled with layered guitar work, keyboards reminiscing the Moraz sound that makes it very spacey and most times ambient as the sax closes the number with a soulful tone while the crisp eerie Searching for my Shadow remains very momentum. The splendid finale romantic Turn of the Tide works, you might imagine her wearing a white sparkling gown walking down the stairs without missing a beat as she sings to the audience as she is giving a standing ovation.
This is one of the most uplifting albums that Breathing Space has done since Olivia and Iain are teaming up with Mostly Autumn this year. While it’s very AOR and Floyd-like, it’s well produced to make it a prog favorite of the noughties.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Barclay James Harvest - BBC In Concert 1972

Among the influences of the Melodic and Symphonic Rock scene, Barclay James Harvest always wanted to have their own sound and vision mixing story-telling lyrics with a Symphony Orchestra mixing ballads, folk, science-fiction hard rock, and jazz in a Harvested fashion. And this recording originally performed at Paris Theatre for the BBC on November 16, 1972, you can tell that although BJH would give an emotional farewell to their label, Harvest Records after being dropped by them and moving to a new record label with Polydor, it was a bidding goodbye to their former record label due to taxes by performing concerts with an Orchestra that almost bankrupted them big time. The band at the time were promoting their fourth album, Baby James Harvest, and they knew they wanted to push the envelope more further by making symphonic than ever.
The Paris Theatre, which was originally a small cinema located at Lower Regent Street in London, was a perfect spot to record performances by the BBC for any rock band that was lucky enough to do these sessions, but to do an Orchestra was according to the liner notes very “limited”. The effects made it very difficult of the sound quality for the engineers to record the tapes by proper equilibrium by recording on a multi-track tape. But the BBC decided to instead of the multi-track to use ¼ inch tape instead to make the sound perfect like you would hear this at the Royal Albert Hall live. BJH had to make sure that the tunes were spot on and fit well with the orchestra while rehearsing during the afternoon to get the numbers right and please their fans by doing a history of their catalogue from the self-titled debut album to Baby James Harvest.
BBC In Concert 1972, offers a small set list by performing old material and new material from their fourth album. Starting with an introduction speech by the late former Pirate Radio DJ, Alan Black as he introduces the band to a roar of applause from the audience beginning with the 7-minute jazz-whimsical beauty and the spacey classical rock turned dramatic number (Mocking Bird and Medicine Man). It also includes the ambient folksy gorgeous version that is almost set in an English Country Garden with Galadriel while the 9-minute Acoustic turned chilling guitar layered and moog goose bumping sounds going “WHOOOOSSH!” done by Woolly Wolstenholme and the ghost-like echoing vocals by John Lees gives it a hair-tingling moment on Summer Soldier.
The live version of the gentle and lifting melody of The Poet is very emotional, highly baroque 15th century at the same time, particularly a reminiscent of Leopold Stokowski performing with the Moody Blues in a dramatic form as it segues into the spine-chilling 7-minute epic glory that could have been used in Ben-Hur, After The Day. The 8-minute pastoral Beethoven sound of Moonwater, could have been used interestingly with Disney’s 1940 classic, Fantasia, but it is very spot on and the way that John’s voice is almost angelic to give it that Symphonic feel as the closing 12-minute eerie turned cinematic track, Dark Now My Sky is again goose bumping and very climatic that makes it sinister and at times Floyd-like. It’s not just a great live album, but worth listening to and very much like a Symphonic version of Pink Floyd, well at least you get to see why old school music is good.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Darryl Way's Wolf - Canis Lupis

Formed in 1973 by electric violinist, Darryl Way who left Curved Air to embark on a solo career, Wolf’s music was a mixture of classical music, hard rock, and twisted folksy lyrics that was out there for his former band members to handle down the road with wild violin solos with improvisation’s going off the manuscript and time changes for an orchestra to handle. Even though they were short lived with only three albums up their sleeve which would explain why Darryl decided to take a small break with Curved Air to come with a lush-like album that is magnificent. He is one of the most underrated musicians to come out of the underground prog rock scene of the ‘70s and Canis Lupis, their second album, is a cornerstone of the cult prog album to come out of the decade.
Opening with the Morse Code turned dream-like rock sound of The Void, it replete with John Etheridge’s guitar work and crisp vocals from John Hodkinson which has the calm after the storm sound with a motion structured to create a flow that is after the nightmare in space surrounding the floating atmosphere, Wolf could have been Curved Air’s kid sister that brings this to be almost a sequel of Air Conditioning with less of the Jazz fusion-era and more bits and pieces of Symphonic Prog Folk Rock into the infinite.
The bass line done by Dek Messecar is very Jazzy as he comes to the center stage with the rough rocker Isolation Waltz with Way coming in to do his solo as he and Dek do a marching solo as drummer Ian Mosley (Marillion) follows them in the patterns they follow. Go Down is Etheridge’s acoustic guitar composition that is very folk-like and very fusion while Wolf is very spacey beginning with that synthesizer done by Way himself who wasn’t trying to be like Rick Wakeman, but he created a Space beauty that is spot on to provide a momentary of him creating the scenery with the synth and the dramatic violin solo to create a melodic tone rather than a charm of quirkiness.
Cadenza is probably the screeching complex that Darryl himself has done to this as he goes almost Le Orme meets New Trolls sound in this number with a heavy composition of the Synth screaming like mad as Way himself is coming up with heavy speed racer violin solos along with John’s guitar playing that he is brining to the table to come up with heavy time changes that makes it a fun number as if it’s to pay tribute to Gentle Giant with an Italian Prog feel.
Chanson Sans Paroles could have been recorded in the 15th century in Italy with Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, but it is classical in a baroque kind of way with some fine melodic structures done by the band to create at first baroque turned into a dark nightclub somewhere in the Jazz clubs in New York as it calms down in a moody sense that gives you a feel of being in the shoes of a mastermind behind the violin, rather than a fiddler on a small roof.
It’s laidback, but eerie at the same time it is also, impressive. McDonald’s Lament (homage to King Crimson’s Ian McDonald, who produced the album) is a small tribute to him as Darryl begins to give the listener his quiet side with this 7-minute charm which brings the John Wetton-era of King Crimson and some sweet beauty also. This is a joyous essential listening album and to Darryl Way to bring him back to the limelight and forefront with Curved Air.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Within Temptation - Black Symphony

It’s a magnificent characterization of symphonic that a double set such as this, the ambitious concept of a 2CD/2DVD set might fit the profile of Within Temptation’s career. They remain a huge part of the Progressive/Symphonic Metal scene to this day and with the cult status they are receiving in their home land and in the States, they are not slowing down when this came around. The band at the time were promoting their new album, The Heart of Everything and the idea to perform live with the Metropole Orchestra, featuring guest appearances with; Keith Caputo, Anneke Van Giersbergen, and George Oosthoek, along with the Pa’dam choir, is a big leap forward.
The band recorded the entire performance at Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Holland on February 7, 2008, this is the holy grail of the band’s music set to a symphony orchestra and realization they bring to the table. It offers almost a Symphonic Broadway Rock Opera to create a beauty by the time they brought the fans the recognition they deserve and how long they came from forming in 1996 to where they are right now in the new wave of Arena Rock. They are more confident with Black Symphony, with Sharon’s dresses which she mentioned that she always wanted to wear them from her inspiration of Fantasy and let’s say she is gorgeous with the dress and the way she sings, however the band are supporting all the way as she gives the audience a performance they’ll never forget.
This is a huge set-list, no drawbacks, no excuses with six enduring numbers. It includes a gorgeous live version of Stand My Ground with Sharon telling the audience to sing the line ‘Stand My Ground/I won’t give in/No more denying I gotta face it/Won’t close my eyes and hide the truth inside.’ Audiences just want to touch the band and Sharon as if they were God-like creatures while the roaring duet of Keith Caputo from Life of Agony is the highlight of the performance giving it all he’s got with What Have You Done. The sinister militant the audiences chanting of The Heart of Everything is glorified with an angry sound as the guitar done by Westerholt makes it very science-fiction and heavier that it can get while drummer Stephen Haestregt’s drums sounds like a machine gun that won’t stop. The lukewarm ballad with piano and orchestra Forgiven gives a warm reception and interestingly, closes with the dramatic goose bumping emotional ballads of All I Need and the hit single Ice Queen.
The 2-DVD set features the full performance including a documentary on the making of the band’s ambitious tour. Now you may have to watch with English Subtitles, but it’s worth watching. It also includes a World Tour footage in which the band have a sense of humor and poke fun at themselves while it has music videos from the four tracks including a making of; Frozen, The Howling, and All I Need.
The extras of course feature the time they won for best international band at the Dutch Pop Award Show along with a performance at the TMF Awards in Benelux and Photo shoot on the band (let’s say their sexy side). This they way the band should bring their sound and vision to a fresh standing ovation. Within Temptation have a long way to go, but they are bringing the 21st century along with them.

Alquin - The Mountain Queen

Alquin were almost sort of Dutch’s own answer to the Canterbury scene mixed with Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, and even Black Sabbath meets Jethro Tull. They grew out of the College University in Delft around at the end of 1969 out of the ashes of a blues-based band called Threshold Fear as a six-piece band which are; bassist Hein Mars, sax and flute Ronald Ottenhoff, keyboardist Dick Fransen, drummer Paul Weststrate, guitarist and vocals Ferdinand Bakker, and sax Jon Tarenskeen. You can definitely tell there was some magic going on with their second album, The Mountain Queen, which was a follow up to their debut album, Marks.
The result is an adventurous ride into sonic jazz fusion at one time while another sounds very pre-Scorpions at times with a Celtic ragtime boogie if you are interested to get into some heavy oddball situations in a good way. Rejoicing with wah-wah guitar solos, fusion-like drum patterns and bass lines, and an organ that is destined to serve you amazing fine dinner on your next flight to another dimension that is destined for a soft landing as the saxes go flying off the wall to give you a lovely hot cup of tea. Quirky, fast, and a roller-coaster ride with a title that is very fantasy-like with a cover that seems very much a 1930’s addictive to dolls.
Whether the music is too difficult or jazzy, Alquin always shines through very brightly. It really brings the band together and the ingredients it needs to create a wonderful sound. Beginning with the 13-minute opening track, The Dance, it starts off with a Yes-keyboard riff that is joined with the horn section giving it a hard beat while the guitars sound very hard and folksy at the same time to set the mood for this upbeat and atmospheric composition.
Soft-Eyed Woman is a moody piece which is in the reins of Camel meets Atom Heart Mother-era of Pink Floyd while Convicts of the Air features a riff on the guitar that could have got the Scorpions influenced to write their anthem Rock You Like a Hurricane, but it’s into the Canterbury homage with a catchy melody that is very much AOR (Album-Orientated Rock). The 14-minute title-track starts off with a marching introduction as it goes into a sax section and calm-like vocals as it becomes crisp and lukewarm tune before leaping forward into almost like a Grateful Dead meets Gentle Giant jam session where the instruments fight to the finish line which is almost like a battlefield for the band members to do a battle to see which instrument would win. Don and Dewey (which sounds almost like a pub) is very much an eerie violin solo turned 12-bar ragtime blues as it gets into the segue of the long title – Mr. Barnum Junior’s Magnificent and Fabulous City (Part One).
It’s very much the tradition of the homage of Bebop Jazz meets Scott Joplin set in the ‘70s in an Emerson, Lake and Palmer type of sound and then it calms down with the violin setting the scenery as it becomes fresh again to close it up with a dramatic climax that will take your breath away ala Focus style This lavish reissue features liner notes done by Wouter Bessels which covers the history of the band and their career. If you love jazz fusion or want to check out why this band were way out in the Canterbury scene this is worth checking out. You won't believe your ears from what you will hear from the time you play it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Spooky Tooth - Lost in my Dream: An Anthology 1968-1974

While everyone pays tribute to the Heavy Prog Rock scene of the late ‘60s, there’s a lot to describe the masterminds with Spooky Tooth in which their music was ‘intelligent’. The fact is the band came out of the ashes of The Ramrods, The VIP’s and Art, it gave birth to this band after being signed to Island Records in 1966 with a little help from founder of Island, Chris Blackwell. Since splitting up in 1974, losing bassist Greg Ridley from pneumonia in 2003, and reforming with various line-ups, Spooky Tooth showed an eerie rock sound and would probably set music to a dramatic psychedelic film to seek the new land, but not come back from drugs and betrayal.
Spooky Tooth definitely had some apples and oranges, lyrics dealing with politics and Jesus Christ controversially with Pierre Henry. And brilliantly, they were on a roll rather than showing off and presenting as sex symbols playing shredded guitar licks and dooming organ solos. There were some brilliancy, haunting, and gloomy sounds coming from the band, as the proof is shown in this 2-CD set done by Esoteric Recordings.
Lost in my Dream An Anthology 1968-1974, is a retrospective set covering the Island years in which the band was signed to in their periodical time frame of Spooky Tooth’s career, a time when they were receiving praise from Pirate Stations including Radio London and Caroline as they were becoming the independent band of the UK Underground scene. And this is where if anyone who wants to get started hearing the history of the band’s career, this is definitely a starter’s set to hear it in all of its glory.
But it’s also very introductive to revisit the band’s history of their catalogue from starting in 1968 with their album It’s All About and the A and B-side singles they made (This would have made Christopher Lee jump for joy if he had heard this). Tobacco Road (from the first album) is a Chicago 12-bar blues with a Gothic Cathedral setting, while the 9-minute epic Evil Woman, is as strong, with Mike Harrison’s vocals soaring as Gary Wright’s keyboard sets the tone with a sense of Tooth’s magnitude. Also, who could forget the bonus tracks with the unreleased tracks of a Hosanna Demo called, When I Get Home and the first mix of Lost in my Dream sounds very nightmarish, but this is a early take as if they wanted to push the envelope and jump down the corridor. There are some amazing tracks including their cover of the Band’s The Weight with; The Last Puff, Son Of Your Father, Better By You Better Than Me, and Sunshine Help Me. Spanning the end of the band’s career in ’73-’74, just goes to show how fucking superb they were. They have a sense of explosion and power Spooky Tooth style.
Despite breaking-up and forming again with unheard gems on the first disc as the band brought the blues rock back on the second disc despite going avant-garde with the eerie, Hosanna. Yes the band had split and came back in the late ‘80s and in the noughties, but this CD set represent a band that were way ahead of their time, but they were one of the early pioneers of Heavy Progressive Rock of the late ‘60s.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Epica - The Phantom Agony

While the Netherlands continues to provide a comfortable area zone for Symphonic Metal for many a veteran band that combines the sound of Beauty and the Beast with creativity operatic cookie monster rock. Epica are here to prove their conceptions with an album that is melodic, orchestral, and blows you away in magnificent moments (Don’t ask me why I just type this down….)
Their debut album in which the band was formed in 2002 while guitarist Mark Jansen left After Forever to pursue a band that would take an crossover of Opera/Symphony/Progressive Metal project that would blow metal heads away by the sound and thanks to the vocal explosions to Simone Simons, The Phantom Agony introduces the band to a swath of Symphonic Progressive Death Metal with an attitude of machine gun drum sounds, guitar’s marching for battle like the political statement against child abuse from the Catholic League with the dooming Cry for the Moon, an emotional song that will appeal to fans of Opeth and Nightwish or any of the Netherland Female Symphonic Metal scene of the noughties. It helps very much, of course with help from a choir that works well along with former drummer Jeroen Simons (no, he and Simone are not related) who has that ancient timing on the drum kit while Isaac Delahaye’s guitar work
has a calmness sound and sometimes chugging like a bullet train to hell while Mark’s rhythm guitar and death grunts sends a chill down your spine. While this is an album is whether you love or loathe, it is very interesting to get into when you hear it twice.
The ballad crisp of Feint in which it was a tribute to political activist Pim Fortuyn who was the center of controversy about Islam by calling it “a backward culture” that makes it feel you are at home as if Epica performed this at his funeral while Illusive Consensus is very much at the time explosive that seemed perfect to perform at Wembley Stadium. At times it sounds as if it’s a medieval metallic version of Queen, but it kicks ass. Fa├žade of Reality (The Embrace that Smothers – Part V), this song not only is a tribute to the 9/11 attacks and features two speeches done by former prime minister, Tony Blair, it is a very heavy song with those modes of what was going during the attacks on that tragic morning. Run For A Fall deals with Mark Jansen’s anger and being pissed off towards his departure of After Forever while Seif Al Din (The Embrace That Smothers, Part VI) which is very middle eastern and the title could be a highlight track in the years of Metal to be an Epic Movie soundtrack ala Gorefest style done by Dario Argento.
The title track which is 8-minutes of a epic battlefield again with the soundtrack that could have been an Oscar Nominated piece for Best Score done to Lord of the Rings, at first it begins with a militant mourning somber sound as it goes into full gear with the Choir-like sound and giving it a real kick in the ass! I must admit this album I’ve really gotten into. Now I must make a confession (so If you read this, my deep apologies to the Death Metal heads) I’m not a fan of the death grunts, but it works well with this album in all of it’s glory. Does it mean I hate Epica? Absolutely not! But it’s worth listening to from start to finish.