30 June 2009

CD REVIEW: Dream Theater, Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009, Roadrunner)

There are some things in this world more life threatening than reviewing a Dream Theater album. I’d try to list them, but as most of them deal with handling toxic or nuclear waste, and/or wrestling large wild animals, I’m not sure such a list is necessary or desired.

I exaggerate some, but not much. In the world of progressive music, not many bands have a fan base as…well…fervent and devoted as Dream Theater does. Quite a bit of this is warranted; the band does go it of its way to give their fans as much as possible, with constantly revolving set lists in concert, a regular series of official bootlegs containing demos, alternate tracks, and live shows. From their 3+ hour ‘evening with’ sets to the last two Progressive nation tours, they make every effort to give the fans as much bang for their buck as possible. So their fan base is well deserved.

The down side to this, if I am to be perfectly frank, is that the fan base tends to turn on its own. The majority has a tendency to eat the minority at almost every juncture. If an album is loved by the majority, no criticism, no matter how intelligently spoken, will be tolerated…until such time as time allows people to look back at the material without the freshness of newness and see it more accurately…then the tables may turn (or, of course, they may not). If band member A says song B sucks, all of a sudden song B sucks, even if the week before people were raving about how wonderful it is.

And so it goes.

I am not trying to denigrate the DT fan base…I am a fan of their music. But I don’t follow blindly. I like what I like because it resonates for me, not for any other reason. And so it is with trembling fingers that I begin to type out a review of Black Clouds & Silver Linings, the 10th studio album from Dream Theater. Like their last release (Systematic Chaos), the album has been released in two basic editions to retail; a standard single disc and a special edition. This year’s special edition is a 3-CD set; the first disc is the album proper, the second is a selection of 6 newly recorded cover versions, the third disc is the album in instrumental mixes. This is the edition I am reviewing.

The six songs on BC&SL can each basically be broken down to single sentence descriptions:

A Nightmare to Remember (ANTR) – this is a song about a car crash and its aftermath.
A Rite of Passage (ARoP) – this is a song about Freemasonry.

Whither – this is a song about writer’s block (seriously).

The Shattered Fortress (TSF) – this is the final part of Mike Portnoy’s 12 step suite.

The Best of Times (TBoT) – this is a song about Mike Portnoy’s dad who had recently passed away.

The Count of Tuscany (TCoT) – actually, I am still not sure what this song is about.

Of course, the songs deserve more than a single line of description. ANTR, as I will abbreviate it, features some relatively heavy DT playing, along with one of the prettier mid-tempo ballad sections I have heard from them in some time. Like many recent DT songs, the structure is somewhat abrupt, going from the quiet, restrained Yes like passage to pretty straight ahead metal thrashing with wild, widdly Petrucci and Rudess solos that at times almost feel out of place. Yes, we know they can play…they have proven it time and time again. The more sustained lines around 10:20 in or so, followed by Wakeman like synth runs, are far more enjoyable than the out of control sweeps and arpeggios that usually feature in instrumental sections.

The wah-ed out bass opening of ARoP (again with the abbreviations) is pretty interesting and enjoyable, but the song then settles into a mid-tempo Megadeth type groove (my girlfriend, in fact, called to me ‘Hey, I didn’t know you were listening to Megadeth’ as it played). James LaBrie sounds quite good, and the playing behind the vocal passages is solid and tightly arranged. As far as the lyrical content is concerned, well…as someone with more than passing knowledge of eastern esoterica and metaphysics, I’m not sure that the lyrics tell a very accurate story of freemasonry, but at the very least I can say that they don’t seem overly negative. Each of the last two Dream Theater albums has seen the band moving toward more of a metal sound rather than progressive, and this song is no exclusion.

TSF completes Mike Portnoy’s epic 12 Step Suite. I have to give him major commendations…across the five songs that make up the suite (nearly 60 minutes of material), he’s spilled his heart and soul out more than the rest of his prodigious lyrical content combined. Addiction is a horrid beast to overcome, and the fact that he has allowed his listeners in to his process is pretty inspiring. The suite has had high points and somewhat less high points, but TSF wraps them up pretty nicely. After the much more restrained and sombre “Repentance” on Systematic Chaos, I had a feeling the final movement would have to up the ante some energy wise, and I was not wrong at all. Heavy double bass drumming, slabs of metallic playing, gruff LaBrie vocals…all are here in spades. There are plenty of musical quotes and repeated motifs tying this into the rest of the suite…an arranging toy that some may find weak, but I feel was almost necessary. Is this my favourite movement in the suite? Not by a long shot (that acclaim is directed toward “Repentance,” in case you are truly curious), but I think it’s a solid conclusion.

I am not going to touch TBoT. I think it’s a pretty song, it feels a little lightweight musically, but I won’t deny the personal lyrics or the fact that some of Petrucci’s most lyrical playing in years can be heard here.

This brings us to The Count. Where to begin? I think musically this is the most solid piece of material the band has put together in the last ten years. I think it features some of the most progressive rock sounding stuff the band has issued since “Octavarium.” I think it shows that when the mood strikes them, they can create a piece of prog rock that shows they can be more than just a metal band. I think in a lot of ways this song rivals some of the material Dream Theater released on their first few albums (yeah, I went there…). But then we come to the lyrics. I am being honest here…I really don’t know what to say about them, mostly because I am still unsure what the song is about. It is apparently, from what I have read, inspired by an event that happened to John Petrucci in Italy…but what? Was he taken to some palatial estate where wine is made from the bodies of the dead? Did he fear that the same fate was going to befall him? I don’t know. I know, as a prog fan, that I have to really take lyrics with a grain of salt…after all, this is a genre where mountains come out of the sky and then stand there…but I just don’t know what to make of the story this song is telling. Instead I listen to the music and am satisfied that the band wrote a 19 minute epic that sits alongside their best material musically.

Moving on…

Disc 2 features, as mentioned above, 6 specially recorded cover songs. We start off with a solid take on Rainbow’s “Stargazer.” I am a huge Rainbow fan, and I was satisfied by this rendition. LaBrie is no Ronnie James Dio, but he acquits himself well here. The same can be said of the band’s so-called Queen ‘medley,’ actually a very nicely done take on “Flick of the Wrist,” “Tenement Funster” and Lily of the Valley” from the seminal Sheer Heart Attack album by Queen. This was one of two covers that caused my nerves to go through the roof, but DT came through with a great cover that even caught the ear of Brian May. “Odyssey” follows, originally performed by the Dixie Dregs (Steve Morse’s original band). Thankfully DT invited Dregs’ violinist Jerry Goodman to guest here, and so we’re treated to real organic violin rather than keyboard samples.

Goodman also guests on the group’s cover of another seminal prog instrumental, King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II.” It’s a solid enough cover, but sadly the mix doesn’t push bassist John Myung high enough up. Wetton’s driving bass was what propelled the original, not Bruford’s drums or Fripp’s searing guitar, and without a similar punchy Myung bass, this cover feels a bit flat and lifeless. Zebra’s “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” precedes the Crimson cover, and…well, I’m not too familiar with the original, so I can’t vouch for the integrity of this cover. This also means that in some ways this cover should be the more intriguing one to me, yet it does little. I’d perhaps have liked to see DT cover another Z band, like a Zappa song, but this would probably mean another instrumental, and that’d not be overly fair to LaBrie.

The set is closed out by A solid performance on the Iron Maiden tune “To Tame a Land.” This is the only cover not specifically recorded for this set, having been issued on a magazine cover disc in the UK as a tribute to Iron Maiden. DT has proven in the past that they are more than adequate Maiden interpreters, and they do not disappoint here. In fact, one might be tempted to say that Dream Theater may well be the pre-eminent active cover band, but I am sure that is an appellation they’d not be too proud of having, as it certainly overshadows the quality of their original work.


Disc 3 features the original studio album in its entirety a second time, this time without any solo performances. This, there’s no guitar soloing, no (or minimal) keyboard widdly widdly, and no LaBrie singing. Ever wanted to solo along with your musical faves in Dream Theater? Here’s your chance! Have a DT karaoke party! The options and opportunities are only as limited as your imagination. Honestly, I think the idea of the instrumental disc is a good one, and I’m glad in a way that they didn’t just remove the vocals. This gives listeners a chance to check out some of the stuff you’re not usually listening to as the rest of the band flies wildly up and down their respective instruments over these musical backings.

“Now wait a minute, man…”

In the final reckoning, where does BC&SL lie? Is it a return to Dream Theater’s progressive roots? Is it a release riddled by the band bowing to label pressure to write a dark, spooky, metal album with 3 discs, each with 6 songs on them (oh my god it’s 6-6-6) to appeal to the black clothed metal masses? It’s not really either. The days of Dream Theater releasing material like they did on Images & Words or Awake are as long gone as the years 1992 and 1994 are. That band is gone…they have grown, changed, and this is the band the way they are today. Taking the cover songs out of the equation (as one should), I look back at the albums the band has released following their creative rejuvenation (which I date to 1999 and the release of Scenes From a Memory) and tally the number of songs I still feel are fresh and playlist worthy today:

6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence: 2 (The Glass Prison, The Great Debate)

Train of Thought: 2 and sometimes 3 (Vacant, Stream of Consciousness, sometimes In the Name of God)

Octavarium: 2 (The Root of All Evil, Octavarium)

Systematic Chaos: 3 (In the Presence of Enemies…yes, despite the cribbed lyrics, Forsaken, Repentance)

Black Clouds & Silver Linings: too early to tell after 1 week, but “The Count of Tuscany” will likely be one despite the wonky lyrics…

In the end, it’s a Dream Theater record. I know this is a cop out. But let’s face it…you’re either going to like it, or you’re not, and there’s not a blessed thing I will be able to do to sway your mind one way or the other. “All the finest wines improve with age,” but only time will tell if this album is a fine wine or destined to be little more than vinegar…

Studio album tracklist:

"A Nightmare to Remember" 16:10

"A Rite of Passage" 8:35

"Wither" 5:25

"The Shattered Fortress

X. "Restraint"

XI. "Receive"

XII. "Responsible" 12:49

"The Best of Times" 13:07

"The Count of Tuscany" 19:16

Cover album tracklist:

"Stargazer" 8:10

"Tenement Funster / Flick of the Wrist / Lily of the Valley" 8:17

"Odyssey" 7:59

"Take Your Fingers From My Hair" 8:18

"Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two" 6:30

"To Tame a Land" 7:15

Instrumental Mixes tracklist:

"A Nightmare to Remember" 15:39

"A Rite of Passage" 8:36

"Wither" 5:28

"The Shattered Fortress" 12:47

"The Best of Times" 13:20

"The Count of Tuscany" 18:47

James LaBrie - vocals

Mike Portnoy - drums, vocals

John Petrucci - guitars

John Myung - bass guitar

Jordan Rudess - keyboards

29 June 2009

The Enid News

Major bits of Enid news...rather than try to summarise, I'm providing RJG's words for you to absorb and process. There's a lot going on...I hope dearly it comes to fruition:

JOURNEYS END - But Not The End Of The Story

This may be the last major concept album from The Enid, but not the "last album". After this comes "Virtuoso", and "Fand Grosse". Along side that, the ongoing "Redux Project" - A five year plan and a legacy. My bid for immortality!

Journey's End is the certainly our most optimistic and thought provoking album. Allegorical in nature, it deals with our place in the cosmos, the nature of eternity and the final question - the journey into the shadows - the inevitable path we must all tread.

Although Journey's End contains many of the creative ingredients of the "FarOut" project which I finally abandoned in 2006, it is not that album by another name. It has a very different concept and is much more sanguine than FarOut would have been had it ever seen the light of day.

As the album nears it's compositional end, I too am gradually nearing mine. There is no escape from the slow silent killer we call diabetes. For me it is now or never.

VIRTUOSO - A Bridge Too Far?

For the last two years I have made a serious effort to regain my piano technique - as it used to be in 1969 when, if the plans of my parents had been adhered to, I would have attempted to be in the final of The Leeds International Piano Competition.

One of the ways I have been doing this, is by creating exciting virtuoso arrangements for solo piano of certain pieces by The Enid - most notably "Childe Roland". Now the rest of the band and I are experimenting with "all live" - unplugged chamber versions of some of our most enduring pieces across the decades.


Plans are afoot to team up with Secret Green and do monster performances of Fand in a special extended arrangement for both bands. More news as things progress.

REDUX PROJECT - The Definitive Enid

Over the next five years The Enid will endeavour to record all of our past studio albums in enhanced arrangements and available in 5.1 surround sound. These will become the "director's cut" - the definitive Enid.


Soon you will be able to download The Enid's Music. There will be no charge for this service. Instead we ask for donations to "The Enidi" based what you feel is deserved and ability to pay.


27 June 2009

RIP Paul Kopecky 1971-2009


Paul James Kopecky, 37, passed away unexpectedly due to complications of juvenile diabetes at All Saints on Monday, June 22, 2009. Paul was born in Racine on October 22, 1971, the son of Joseph and Shirley (nee: Andreason) Kopecky, Jr. He was a graduate of Park High School, and was a lifetime Racine resident. Paul was employed at JC's Mufflers & Brakes of Racine, where he was an extraordinary mechanic, manager, and leader. He was also a very talented musician, and loved playing with his brothers, Joe and Bill, in their band 'KOPECKY.' Together they had released 5 CDs, and performed at music festivals worldwide and played with many national recording artists.

26 June 2009

CD/DVD REVIEW: Therion, The Miskolc Experience (2009, Nuclear Blast Records)

Ever since seeing a video for their song “Birth of Venus Illegitama,” I’ve had a soft spot for the band Therion…so much so that over time I have purchased just about every release in their catalogue. From traditional death metal through their more recent symphonic metal releases, there has been a constant thread of progression…not only in style but in the actual compositions, many of which are filled with interesting changes and arrangements. I’m not sure that I’d necessarily label the band progressive metal, but there’s enough prog in them to whet my appetite.

Sadly, the release of Gothic Kaballah really disappointed me for some reason, and I fell a little behind with them. I skipped that release after hearing it, as well as their live follow up release Live Gothic. So when I saw The Miskolc Experience boxed set sitting on a vendor table, I was a bit taken aback, as I’d not known it was coming out.

I knew about what it contained, of course…I remember reading about their performance at the International Opera Festival in Miskolc Hungary in 2007. I remember hoping beyond hope that such a performance would be documented, with the associated worry that it’d not be professionally filed or recorded…or even worse, that it would be and the recordings would not pass muster. In the interim, an audience recording slipped into my hands, and disappointed me with its lack of audio fidelity. Sadly, I passed each day with the memories of what must have been a memorable performance slipping away, the disappointment in not only being unable to attend due to distance and cost but in knowing in my heart of hearts that I’d not ever get to hear or see the performance fading away…until I saw the boxed set.

So what is on The Miskolc Experience?

Well, the boxed set contains 2 CDs and 1 DVD. The performance and material concert-wise is the same on both types of media. The first 40% or so of the concert is Therion with orchestra, choir and soloists, performing a selection of classical and opera pieces subtly rearranged. Opening with a soloist and orchestra only arrangement of Therion’s “Clavicula Nox,” from the 1998 album Vovin, we quickly shift through Dvorak, Mozart, Verdi, Saint-Saens, and Wagner. The section from Dvorak’s 9th symphony, From the New World, is appropriate, and almost headbang-worthy in itself. “Dies Irae,” from Mozart’s Requiem mass, is another wonderfully appropriate selection. Much of the Requiem I think could be nicely transposed for metal band, and the “Dies Irae” is perhaps the obvious choice for such an arrangement.

And as for Wagner, well…can one deny that in its own way Wagner’s operas were perhaps the metal of their day? Bombastic, pounding, screaming vocals and intense musical workouts of passion and fire. Thankfully Therion and their conductor Markus Stollenwerk have veered away for the most part from adapting material from the Ring saga…it’d be expected to hear material from Die Walküre, yet the only selection from the operatic epic comes from Siegfried. Instead we have a healthy selection of pieces from an earlier opera, Rienzi. As I am incredibly unfamiliar with this work (it’s rarely performed due to length and style), these pieces were enlightening.

Throughout the classical performances, the band and orchestra are joined by a huge choir and 4 wonderful soloists. Lori Lewis and Judit Milnar are expressive sopranos (Lewis had been touring with Therion on their tour for Gothic Kaballah and also sings for the band Aesma Daeva), while Andras Molnar and Gergely Boncser are both powerful tenors with fairly dynamic range (I’d probably come closer to describing them as baritones or bari-tenors than straight tenor vocalists).

CD 2 sees band, orchestra/choir and vocalists (including long time Therion singer Mats Levin) in full on metal mode, playing through a ‘brief’ set of Therion classics. Material is taken from throughout the band’s more symphonic releases, with special emphasis on Vovin, Deggial, and Sirius B/Lemuria. The two disparate musical entities merge pretty well across these 9 tracks; I know it’s become a bit of a cliché in the music industry for bands to do orchestral recordings, but in most cases it becomes more of a rock band playing with some orchestral backing to sweeten the pot. There’s been a bit more care taken here; Therion’s music often seems to call for just this kind of experiment, and it works out well, with the band sitting back when not needed, giving the orchestra and choir space to sing, coming in when appropriate. The same can be said in reverse, really; just as in a traditional orchestra, there are times when a certain instrument is not needed, and thus it remains silent. In this way, Therion actually seems more a part of the orchestra than separate from it, and the music and arrangements benefit.

As mentioned. The Miskolc Experience also includes a DVD of the performance. Video quality is good, albeit a bit dark for my tastes, and it lacks a bit of definition in my eyes. Sound quality is excellent however, and meets that of the CDs. The mix is only in stereo; quality is good as mentioned, but I might have enjoyed hearing this material with a surround mix. Bonus features are interesting if a bit light; part of a performance from Bucharest featuring the music of Therion performed entirely by orchestra is included (16 minutes), while a 20 minute documentary goes into the actual production of the show, from setting up the stage through the beginning and end of the show. Rehearsals are shown, and one gets a feel from these and brief interviews with the band how the concert came about. I watched the documentary before starting in on the main programme (I have this problem with wanting to watch special features before the actual meat of the content), and in some ways it ended up casting a pall over the concert for me. I had this image in my mind of this concert happening in a grande opera hall, yet it seems to have been held in a gymnasium (in many of the concert shots you can see the scoreboard above the band). It doesn’t detract from the songs or performance at all, but…I can’t help but think that such music should be experienced in a more appropriate setting.

Everything (the 2 CDs and the DVD, each packed in a separate digipak) is enclosed in a nice hard box with cool and Therion-esque cover art…a wasteland with violin, horn and woodwind partially buried amidst piles of earth and skulls. A booklet enclosed with the DVD features extensive notes from band founder member Christoffer Johnsson, discussing some of his philosophies behind the performance; why he wanted to do it, how the pieces were selected, et cetera. The credits list is longer than almost any album in my collection (though it may nit rival the number of musicians who have played with Magma over the years ;-) ), and the booklet is completed with several photos from the event.

Therion may be developing a bit of a reputation of market saturation (2 studio albums followed by a 4 DVD/2 CD set, followed by a 2 CD studio release and another 2 CD/1 DVD live set), but The Miskolc Experience is something entirely different, documenting one incredibly special evening in Hungary that will likely never be repeated. If you like your rock to mix in a healthy dose of the classical…or wish your classical let you bang your head a little more, then this release is definitely for you.

(NB: unless things change drastically, this will be the final Therion release to feature the ‘classic’ core band featuring Johan and Kristian Neimann, both of whom have left Therion for their own projects. I do believe Mats Levin has moved on as well.)

Part 1 - Classical Adventures: (44 min.)

01. Clavicula Nox

02. Dvorak: Excerpt from Symphony no. 9

03. Verdi: Vedi! le fosche notturne spotigle from Il Trovatore

04. Mozart: "Dies Irae" from Reqiuem

05. Saint-Saens: Excerpt from Symphony No. 3

06. Wagner: "Notung! Notung! Niedliches Schwert!" from The Ring

07. Wagner: Excerpt from the Overture from Rienzi

08. Wagner: Second part of "Der Tag ist da" from Rienzi

09. Wagner: First part of "Herbei! Herbei!" from Rienzi

Part 2 - Therion Songs: (66 min.)

01. Blood Of Kingu

02. Sirius B

03. Lemuria

04. Eternal Return

05. Draconian Trilogy

06. Schwartsalbenheim

07. Via Nocturna

08. The Rise Of Sodom And Gomorrah

09. Grand Finale

Bonus Features (DVD only):

01. Documentary (20 min.)

02. Therion Goes Classic – Bucharest (16 min.)


Christoffer Johnsson: guitars

Kristian Niemann: bass guitar

Johan Neimann: guitars

Pieter Karlsson: drums


Lori Lewis (toured with Therion)

Mats Levin (toured with Therion)

Judit Molnar

Andras Molnar

Gergely Boncser

List: Officially released NEARfest shows

As inspired by tehcrazydiamond, here's what I believe is a fairly exhaustive, but probably missing a few, list of NEARfest performances which have seen official release. Performers with a NFR in parenthesis have seen their show released on NEARfest Records, otherwise the info in said parenthesis will generally list title and/or label the performance was released on.

NEARfest 1999
Mastermind (StellarVox)

Spock's Beard (part of Live at Nearfest and the Whiskey, Radiant)

Nathan Mahl (NFR)

NEARfest 2000

DFA (MoonJune Records)

Thinking Plague (NFR)

Nexus (Prog Media)

NEARfest 2001

Under the Sun (ProgRock Records)

Birdsongs of the Mezozoic (NFR)

Djam Karet (NFR)

NEARfest 2002

Caravan (CRP)

Nektar (CRP)

Steve Hackett (NFR/Camino)

Miriodor (Cuneiform, as part of Parade release)

La Torre dell'Alchemista (Marakash)

NEARfest 2003

Glass Hammer (NFR/Sound Resources)

NOTE: Magma did not allow filming or recording of their set.

NEARfest 2004

Hidria Spacefolk (NFR)

Strawbs (Witchwood Records)

NEARfest 2005

Kenso (Pathograph DVD)

Le Orme (Ice Records/Sonny Boy Management, DVD/CD)

IQ (Phantom, DVD)

Steve Roach (NFR)

NEARfest 2005 DVD (NFR)

Frogg Cafe (on Safenzee Diaries, 10T)

Proto-Kaw (3 tracks on DVD packed in special edition of The Wait of Glory, IOMA)

NEARfest 2006

NEARfest 2007

Izz (Doone)

Pure Reason Revolution (NFR, plus 2 songs on DVD in special edition of Vincit Amor Omnia, Superball)

NOTE: Hawkwind and Magma did not allow filming or recording of their sets.

Rumoured for possible future release (NB: these are just rumours based on best available information, and as such should be taken with as many grains of salt as you'd like):

Yezda Urfa (Marc Miller has been mixing, and in November 2008 mentioned he was close to a final mix)

Banco 2008

Camel 2003 (possible DVD)

Riverside 2006 (possible DVD, original rumour was that it would be packaged in Special Edition of their most recent album)

FM 2006

Please also note: NEARfest is far from the only festival to have some excellent performances released officially. ProgDay, 3RP, and ROSfest, among others, have seen some excellent live releases come from their festival performers and performances.

25 June 2009

CD REVIEW: Trettioåriga Kriget, War Years (Mellotronen, 2008)

I’m not sure, but I think I may have caused a few people to think I was tripping on some pretty heavy lysergics during NEARfest.

You see, a lot of people ask me about the bands that are playing, especially if they are unfamiliar with them. So when people come up to me and asked “Bill, tell me…what is this band Trettioåriga Kriget like, really,” (only they’d never really say that, since they were probably stammering over the first word, and in the end possibly getting so frustrated that they’d end up saying in exasperation “That older Swedish band that’s gonna play) I’d reply with the following:

“Well, at their hardest, they’re like what Rush would sound like if they were really a prog band.”

Said questioner would walk off all smiles and excited…only to catch up with me after their performance and say, incredulity on their faces “That didn’t sound like Rush at all.” To which I’d have to reply “No, I said they sound like what Rush would sound like if they were really a prog band…not that they sound like rush.” And I stand behind this to this point…a good mix of heavy and light, lyrics that satirise the state of humanity, and then satirise the people doing the satirising…I think there’s a good degree of connection there. Yes, it’s fair to say that TK is far more symphonic than a band like Rush could ever be; it’d also be fair to say that they are jazzier as well. And perhaps Geddy Lee sounded better in the higher vocal registers than TK’s falsetto singer, but that’s splitting hairs.

People who continue to offer disbelief at my analogy would do well to pick up War Years, the recently released 2 CD live set from the band, available on Mellotronen Records (the same label who has handled all of the band’s reissues and new releases to date). Across the 2 discs in this package, one gets a very good primer on what made this band such a mainstay of many old school progger’s LP and CD collections over the years.

The first disc comprises recordings of the band during their first lifetime, from 1971-1980. Here we have a band hungry for success and acclaim, and pouring it all out on stage. There’s plenty of highlights here…the lengthy guitar and bass excursions on “En kväll hos X,” the dramatic “Krigssång,” and the heaviness and almost punky attitude of “Mot alla odds” or “Dåliga nerver” are just a few of them. The band is full of energy and fire, and it comes across clearly despite the occasionally advanced age of the source material. For those of you who didn’t believe me at NEARfest, this is the disc to hear. You may still not think they’re prog (I maintain that they are), but you can’t deny that they have and had energy and rocked out.

Disc two is made up primarily of material recorded at their first ever (I think) US show, from Progday in 2004. This is perhaps closer in tone to the stuff heard on stage at Lehigh University this past weekend. After an introduction track, we’re greeted with one of my favourite TK tunes ever, “Lång historia.” Driving bass and drums, excellent guitar work, tight composition…this is why I dig Kriget as much as I do. Most of the band’s Progday set is included here (including a smoking take on "
Om Kriget kommer"), along with a liberal sprinkling of material recorded in Nacka, Sweden in 2007. The voices may have aged somewhat, but the passion behind those voices hasn’t dimmed a bit. I think it might have been nice had the band included a bit more of what was then their most recent album, but that’s an artistic decision that I can’t really speak for other than to express this desire.

Sound Quality: Throughout the release, sound quality is very good to excellent. Some of the earliest tapes feel a bit hot to me, and there may be a bit of slight crackle around the edges (“Confusions,” filled with overdriven harmonica, seems to suffer the worst of all), but the recordings never become unlistenable. Obviously the 2004 and 2007 recordings feature modern digital clarity, but even here there’s a bit of warmth and roundness in the mix. The material is mastered at a good level…not too loud, not so soft that one must crank up the stereo to get a listenable volume. Finally, the band is mixed quite well, with space for each instrumentalist to be heard.

War Years is packaged in a tri-fold digipak, which sounds nice in theory. Sadly, the first disc is not placed in a tray; instead, it’s slipped into the booklet and held in a pocket on the first fold. I anxiously anticipate that the disc will end up getting scratched over time. I’d have happily paid a little extra for a second plastic tray to mount the Past disc in. Otherwise, the liner notes offer some historical perspective over the band’s history, giving a nice little potted Trettioåriga Kriget biography. Some great historical photos feature as well, placing everything into perspective.

I recommend War Years pretty highly; I think people who were borderline about the band this past weekend may find themselves pushed closer to fandom after a listen or two. Longtime fans will of course love it, and I think people who were disappointed with the performance may find themselves appreciating it a bit more after listening.

CD 1 – PAST:

Introduction Tippen

Confusions - Live 1971

Perspektiv - Live 1974

Handlingens skugga - Live 1974

Krigssång - Live 1977

False start - Live 1976

Krigssång II - Live 1976

En kväll hos X - Live 1977

Den stora kliniken - Live 1977

Mot alla odds - Live 1979

Dåliga nerver - Live 1979

Blues - Live 1981

Som förut - Live 1981

Errolito - Live 1980



Lång historia - Live 2004

Mina löjen - Live 2004

Om Kriget kommer - Live 2004

Andra sidan - Live 2004

Jag och jag och jag - Live 2007

Moln på marken - Live 2004

I början och slutet - Live 2007

Krigssång - Live 2004

Gnistor - Live 2004

Ur djupen - Live 2004

Dagspress - Live 2004

Kaledoniska orogenesen - Live 2007


Stefan Fredin: bass, rhythm guitar, vocals

Dag Lundquist: drums, violin, percussion, vocals

Christer Åkerberg: electric and acoustic guitars

Robert Zima: vocals, guitar

Mats Lindberg: keyboards, saxophone

Olle Thörnvall: lyrics, harmonica on CD 1, track 2

Find out more at:


NEARfest day two: a review in brief...

If waking up Saturday was rough, you don’t want to know how waking up Sunday was. Still, I made the decision this time to have a couple glasses of water first thing, and we stopped off at the Dunkin Donuts before heading down to the venue. That water, and the bottle of OJ, really made the difference, and I had no problems at all Sunday. The place was pretty empty, and the vending rooms were slow. We were excited to see the first two bands, and thus we made sure to get up to the theatre in time for the Sunday opener…

QUANTUM FANTAY, from Belgium. So much energy. So much personality. So much more space rock. These guys got a huge response from the sleepy NF crowd…so much so that they sold out of CDs and other merch. They bounded around the stage, wailed on guitar and bass, thrashed the drums, and coaxed swirly synth sounds from their instruments. I wish I had picked up their CD/DVD set, but there’s always mail order. Sunday opener slots have seen some of the most exciting surprising sets at NF…Hidria Spacefolk, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Guapo, and now these guys. Big things lie ahead for them I think.

BEARDFISH followed. I was really looking forward to them, and so was Sharon. Neither of us were disappointed. I love their vintage sound, with loads of great keyboard textures, excellent guitar, and above all, killer songwriting. They didn’t worry about the crowd, playing the ‘controversial’ “Roulette” and “The Gooberville Ballroom Dancer” as early as possible. Nothing like a healthy dose of bikers named Jesus and motherf*^&ers, eh? They played some stuff off the forthcoming album, whose release I now worry about with things getting as dicey as they are (SPV bankrupt, Beardfish and PoS pulled off the Prog Nation tour). I am glad I got to see them, and I hope to whoever is listening that they can be brought back over soon.

Lunch was bison burgers from the vendors outside. They were good. I was tired. The sun was out. We’d been hanging out with Ray and Tom from echolyn a bit, as one does at these festivals. We’d also been hanging out with the guys from Quantum Fantay a bit, and Rikard and the others from Beardfish, who as I said above were awesome. Time was growing short, so we headed in for the third band on day two…

TRETTIOARIGA KRIGET from Sweden. They’re a classic band…for a while, one of the few 1970’s Swedish bands you could find releases from. At their heaviest they are what Rush would sound like if they were a prog band. And yes, they played a healthy dose of the heavier stuff…and a lot of their quieter, more restrained pieces. I like them, and I liked their performance. I think they were the wrong band at the wrong time, really…they were too relaxed for a set late in the afternoon on the second day of the festival. I think DFA’s energy would have worked better here. And I know that people had a major issue with the falsetto vocals. Still, I liked them, and they deserved to be here.

Dinner break arrived, and I packed enough away to make sure I’d get through the final band. I had high hopes yet again, and I had a feeling they’d be met.

PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI did more than meet them. They exceeded them a thousand times over. One always worries when a classic band says they are gonna play a lot of newer material. Well, the songs from Stati di Imaginazione more than belonged in the set…they were every bit as vital as the classic material. And what a selection of classic material…’Dove…Quando,” “Impressioni di Settembre," “Out at the Roundabout.” I was waiting for “E’Festa,” and I was blown away…it take s a lot to get 1000 people at NEARfest out of their chairs, yet PFM achieved this. They got audience participation. I saw 1000 people dancing and jumping. I felt the walls shake. I heard them screaming on request. It was thrilling, and one of the best performances I have ever seen at NEARfest.

But this year’s NEARfest was about far more than the music. It was about meeting up with people I see once a year. It was about repaying the people who so graciously and generously allowed us into the inside, letting us become part of this breathing, living entity. It was about seeing the festival in a whole new light. If NEARfest 2009 was anything, it was a rebirth in so many different ways. I came out better than I went in. In the end, NEARfest 2009 will perhaps be the most memorable one for me.

Progday announces BRAVE

ProgDay 2009 will get off to a rousing start as the outstanding melodic progressive metal band BRAVE take the stage. Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, their performances with bands like FATES WARNING, ASIA, LACUNA COIL, SPOCK'S BEARD, OPETH and SYMPHONY X have earned them a reputation for atmospheric, powerful and soulful music. With the heartfelt, passionate vocals of MICHELLE LOOSE, lyrical metal guitars, and a violin that is sometimes songbird-like and other times symphonic, they have created a unique, rich sound that sets them apart from the expected.

"The first thing to hit you is the melancholy voice of lead singer Michelle Loose, with a delivery that makes me think of the old group Renaissance fronted by the multi-octave vocals of Annie Haslam. Now take those vocals, put in a duel heavy metal guitar attack and then to top it off, add a violin similar to the group Kansas. There you have Brave...This band is really Beauty and the Beast. With the gorgeous vocals of Michelle Loose swirling all around you, the beast of a band behind her, hits you like a ton of bricks. The combination is something to behold." - Scott Ward, SEA OF TRANQUILITY

ProgDay is the world's longest running progressive rock event. The 15th edition will take place on September 5th & 6th, 2009, at beautiful Storybook Farm near Chapel Hill, North Carolina. BRAVE (US) join LA MASCHERA DI CERA (Italy), OZRIC TENTACLES (UK), MÖRGLBL (France), QUI (Japan), FRENCH TV (USA), 3RDEGREE (USA) and DELUGE GRANDER (USA) for another great weekend of the best in progressive music! For more information and to hear music from all of this year's ProgDay bands, please visit us at www.progday.net.

IMPORTANT NOTE: ProgDay has changed it's domain name. We are now "Progday.net" instead of ".com." If you are one of ProgDay's supporters, please be sure to make the change to ".net" in all of your links and bookmarks.

24 June 2009

ProgDay tickets on sale now

Tickets for ProgDay 2009 will go on sale WEDNSDAY JUNE 24, 2009. They may be purchased via credit card on the ProgDay web site or by personal check. Checks should be made out to ProgDay and sent to:

Jeff Wilson
521 Limestone Rd
Carlisle, Pa

For more information visit the "tickets" section of http://www.progday.net

Ticket Prices for 2009 will be the same as last year:

Weekend Patron Pass - $140*
Advanced Weekend Pass - $90 (through Aug 23)**
Weekend Pass At The Gate - $100
Single Day Pass At The Gate - $60

*Our patron program is provided as a way for prog fans to provide an extra donation to ProgDay. ProgDay patrons do receive privileged parking closer to the venue (Storybook Farm Venue Only). Patrons will also receive a free copy of this year's program. Patron passes are limited due to the size of our parking area.

**Advanced weekend passes are also limited due to the size of our back up bad weather venue, so get yours early.

Hotel Information:

Once again this year the official hotel for ProgDay will be:

Comfort Inn University
3508 Mount Moriah Road, Durham, NC 27707
(919) 490-4949

A special rate $80 will be available for ProgDay attendees. Please call the local hotel number (919) - 490-4949 to reserve your rooms. Additional information can be found under the "local information" section of the ProgDay web site: http://www.progday.net

CalProg tickets on sale 27 June

6th Annual CalProg Progressive Rock Festival
Date: Saturday October 10, 2009

Place: The Center Theater in Whittier, California

Line Up:

It Bites (UK)

Karmakanic (Sweden)

Touchstone (UK)

Agents of Mercy (Sweden)

Plus Tom Brislin (Jersey) Solo on the Patio

If you are not familiar with these bands, please take a moment to visit the CalProg web site to read about them and to listen to audio samples of their music. Even if you don't know the bands, you may be familiar with some of their members: John Mitchell, Roine Stolt, Jonas Reingold, Nad Sylvan and Nick D'Virgilio to name a few. This year promises to be yet another incredible day of progressive music.

Tickets go on sale THIS SATURDAY morning (June 27) at 8AM. All seats are reserved. Prices: $100 (1st 8 rows) and $80 for the rest of the house.

New live VdGG releases!

This came out of left field...I didn't realise it was coming. Then again, I don't have Peter Hammill's news page bookmarked, only the lyrics page. Must remedy that. In any event, onward...

Now here's something exciting! The Trisector trio of Hugh Banton, Guy Evans and Peter Hammill performing an almost 2 hour concert with a great set-list in front of a tremendously enthusiastic crowd on April 14, 2007, all captured professionally.

"The Paradiso has been the scene of several epic shows in VdGG's past. This one's a gem of an addition to the collection. This was our first tour as a trio and by the time we arrived in Amsterdam we were well into our stride, having played nine previous shows. There's a mixture of old, new and rediscovered material here. The emphasis, though, is on looking forward rather than backward."-Peter Hammill

1. Lemmings
2. A Place To Survive
3. Lifetime
4. (In The) Black Room
5. Every Bloody Emperor
6. All That Before
7. Gog
8. Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild
9. The Sleepwalkers
10. Man-Erg
11. Scorched Earth

This is available on both CD and DVD, with the DVD also featuring an interview with PH from 2009. Looks like a must have!

(thanks to Steve F. from Wayside/Cuneiform for posting this and bringing it to my attention!)

CD REVIEW: Magma, Studio Zund (Seventh Records, 2008)

The mere thought of a 12 CD boxed set of Magma recordings is sure to cause most prog fans to have a fit. On one side, ardent fans of the zeuhl genre likely will be salivating at the idea of a big black box emblazoned with Magma logos, filled to overflowing with musical goodness. On the other hand, there is a more than insignificant portion of the prog fanbase who greets the name Magma with hands over the ears and tongue sticking out like they’d just taken poison.

Yes, it’s fair to say that Magma is a polarising band.

Studio Zund is an impressive release to be sure. Yes, it compiles in one convenient package all the original Magma studio albums, from Kobaia in 1970 through Kohntarkosz Anteria from 2004. None of the releases have seen any remastering or sonic tweaking (I am not sure how much any of them really needed it…they are products of their period, and to my ears have sounded pretty good historically), but for the fan who wants everything to look the same presentation wise, you just can’t go wrong. Each album is in a nice card digipak, with all edges in red and black, numbered chronologically on the bottom in red, and with nicely reproduced cover art. Inside each album’s packaging, you get a thick, beefy booklet with notes from Christian Vander himself (along with another author whose name escapes me, as I only have one disc with me today as I write this review) that go into the recording and writing process of each release. I love that…I love getting an artist’s take on the process of creation, and for a band so identified with a singular musician and philosophy, such notes are almost essential.

What will draw in the most attention is the 2 CD Archiw set, which compiles a number of interesting historical recordings. We get the first demos from 1970, sourced from vinyl (yes, it’s pretty obvious, as there’s pops and crackles in the recording; not enough in my opinion to detract from the listening, but it is there. Fair warning), an early take on
Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh with just rhythm section and a vocal guide track, the original sound track from the film 24 heures seulement recorded that same year by the line-up playing on the first album, and a version of “Eliphas Levi” with drums. For me, again, these historical recordings are enlightening. I do not know that they would be so for others, but considering how frequently I go searching for material like this (old demos, et cetera), it’s nice to have them in one place along with the rest of the catalogue.

As a Magma fan, purchasing this boxed set was an easy decision to make (though this has not always been the case…ask any of my friends how hard it was for me to finally bite the bullet and purchase Trilogie au Triannon a few years back). Considering that the boxed set contains 12 CDs, the cost is minimal really. It does make the albums I already own duplicates, but I am sure that I can find good homes for the ones that I’ve just purchased again. As this set only covers the core releases, things like
Mekanïk Kommandöh (the other early version the band has released officially) are not included, nor are the official live albums or any of the official bootlegs released on Akt Records over the years.

So, who is Studio Zund aimed at? I’m not sure there. Hardcore fans probably have everything on here save for the material on Archiw I & II…and for them, I’d wager a $100 + price tag for 2 discs is probably a bit much. As I’ve not gotten the whole studio discography yet (and several of the ones I do have I have as officially purchased downloads), it was easier to justify the purchase, and have the bonus of the unreleased material. What I can and will state is that this is one of the most attractively designed, well thought out boxed sets I have seen in recent years (tho the Henry Cow boxes probably beat this on sheer volume and unreleased material standpoints), and pretty essential for presenting the catalogue of one of the most influential, important bands in all of progressive music.


1970: Magma (reissued as Kobaïa)

1971: 1001° Centigrades

1973: Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh

1974: Ẁurdah Ïtah

1974: Köhntarkösz

1976: Üdü Wüdü

1978: Attahk

1984: Merci

2004: K.A. (Kohntarkosz Anteria)

2008: Archiw 1 & II

Musicians (likely a far from exhaustive list)

Christian Vander – drums, vocals

Claude Engel – guitars, flute, vocals

Francis Moze – electric bass, contrabass

François Cahen – piano

Teddy Lasry – soprano sax, flute

Richard Raux – alto and tenor sax, flute

Alain "Paco" Charlery – trumpet, percussion

Klaus Basquiz – vocals

Jeff Seffer - Saxophone, Bass Clarinet

Louis Toesca – Trumpet

Jannick Top — Bass

Jean Luc Manderlier — Piano, Organ

Rene Garber — Bass Clarinet, Vocals

Claude Olmos — Guitar

Stella Vander — Vocals

Muriel Streisfield — Vocals

Evelyne Razymovski — Vocals

Michele Saulnier — Vocals

Doris Reinhardt — Vocals

Gerard Bikialo - Pianos,Yamaha Organ

Michel Graillier - Pianos, Clavinet

Brian Godding - Guitar

Alain Hatot - Saxophones, Flute

Patrick Gauthier - Piano, Synthesiser

Bernard Paganotti - Bass, Vocals

"Lisa" - Vocals

Lucille Cullaz - Vocals

Catherine Szpira – Vocals

Tony Russo - Trumpet

Jacques Bolognesi – Trombone

Benoit Widemann - Grand Piano, Rhodes, Mini-Moog, Oberheim Polyphonic

Guy Delacroix - "Earth" Bass, "Air" Bass

Guy Khalifa - Vocals

Francois Laizeau - Drums, Drum Programming

Marc Eliard - Bass

Liza Deluxe - Backing Vocals

Simon Goubert - Synthesizer

Phillipe Slominski - Trumpet

Christian Martinez - Trumpet

Michel Goldberg - Saxophone

Freddy Opsepian - Trumpet

Christian Guizen - Trombone

Alex Ferrand - Vocals

Jean Luc Chevalier - Guitar

Paul Bayle - Saxophone

Denis LeLoup - Trombone

Arrigo Lorenzi - Soprano Sax

Maria Popkiewicz - Backing Vocals

Jerome Naulay - Trombone

Zaka - Percussion

Michel Graillier - Rhodes Piano

James Mac Gaw — Guitars

Emmanuel Borghi — Piano, Fender Rhodes

Frédéric d'Oelsnitz — Fender Rhodes

Philippe Bussonet — Bass guitar

Antoine Paganotti — Vocals

Himiko Paganotti — Vocals

Isabelle Feuillebois — Vocals

NEARfest day one: a review in brief...

(A pre-side note: the setlists provided as directly from festival co-founded Chad Hutchinson, who got them from the stage setlists the bands wrote up. as corrections come, I will make them here.)

NEARfest day one started with a bit of a rough wake up…Friday night had been a touch fraught, and I know we had some slight issues dragging ourselves out of bed. A shower helped…but not long after getting to Lehigh on Saturday morning, I started feeling decidedly unwell. I dehydrated very, very quickly (air con over night and a lot of humidity contributing to a heat index higher than the actual temp may have contributed), and I had to get some water and stuff pumped into me. I joked that they had bottles of water and were jamming the tops into my mouth and squeezing the water down my throat. In any event, I was feeling well enough at that point to hit the theatre for…

(Heads of Wax) from Mexico. What an interesting set of music from these guys. Unique custom made instruments, heavy folk and electronic influences, their sound would range from the precious and acoustic to wild waves of sound. I can’t describe them all that well…they are labeled as avant and RiO, and some people called them space rock for some reason, but for me, they were just CdC…and I dug them enough to pick up a pair of discs to relive the experience. Good stuff.

Nocturno Incandescente
Cazador de Ballenas

Mil Noches

I think at this point I had one or two bottles of OJ, and headed back to the vending room to sell an ever depleting pile of shirts and programs and pint glasses. Wanted a tan shirt? Sorry, you’re out of luck, we’re out. 3X shirt? Sold out yesterday, so sorry. We had our full crew behind the table, and at our best, we were a well-oiled machine working around each other quite well.

Vendor rooms close, and we head up for OBLIVION SUN from here in the US. 2 Happy the Man members (Happy the Men?), a member of Present, Adrian Belew’s drummer, and a second keyboardsist, playing fun, fusiony symphonic music that included some classic HtM tracks, some excellent new stuff with quirky as ever titles (“Dead Sea Squirrels,” or ‘nature’s road bumps’ as claimed by Stanley Whitaker), and enough chops for a clinic. Stan looked and played great…we (Stan and I) had a chance to chat a bit before the set and it was wonderful to share some stuff that we had in common. That rocked, and was probably my emotional highlight of the festival.

Chapter 7.1
No Surprises
Lake of Shadows (new Bill Plummer piece)
The Ride
Golden Feast
Dead Sea Squirrels (new Stan piece)
Tales of Young Whales
The High Places (new Frank Wyatt piece)

Service with a Smile
March of the Mushroommen
(new Stan piece)

It was lunch time, and we hit the catering room for sandwiches and drinks. They hit the spot. Not much more to say there, really. We got all re-energised for the next act, which was…

from Italy. I was looking forward to these guys, and they did not disappoint. Great instrumental symphonic rock from Italy with just a touch of fusion goodness. I finally splurged and got the other two albums I needed to complete my collection, so I can identify the tracks I didn’t already know, but they were stellar live. Really got into them, and was glad to see them finally (NB: I am listening to Kaleidoscope, their 2 CD reissue of the first two albums, as I post this here...it is every bit as good as the show was, and then some).

Vietato Generalizzare
Flying Trip
Trip on Metro
Mosoq Runa


Dinner was a bit of a debacle, as meal tickets weren’t available, and the on site vendors closed down due to the weather. So we foraged for stuff to get us through the next band. I’d been doing everything possible to downplay them, trying to not build up expectation or anticipation, but soon the denouement would have to be had…the lights dimmed, and onto the stage came GONG.

I’ll say it here, as clear as possible. I loved their set. They played superbly. It was tight, and spacy, and trippy, and I really loved it. Daevid was in fine form despite being sick. Steve Hillage played fantastically. Miquette was fun on keys…playing, dancing, swaying, jumping. Theo Travis was wicked on the sax. The set was killer…I can’t ask for anything better. The new stuff (from the forthcoming 2032 album, the next part of the Planet Gong story) was good. It was just wild all the way around. Made it to the encore and we headed down stairs to catch up with a few people before we headed off into the night to search out french toast before hitting the hay for day two…

Escape, Control
You can't Kill Me
Tic Toc
Digital Girl
Dance with Pixies
Wacky Backy
Never Glid
Flute Salad
Oily Way
Outer Temple
Inner Temple
Om Liff
Cycle Gliss
You and I

Tropical Fish

23 June 2009

CD REVIEW: IQ, Frequency (2009, InsideOut)

Serious change has been afoot in the IQ camp. After years of service, long-time IQ drummer Paul Cook left the band in 2005 following touring for their 2004 opus Dark Matter. Andy Edwards, who had formerly worked with Robert Plant among others, was deputised in, and appeared with the band for their North American dates. Following the touring cycle, the group convened to begin work on their follow-up release. Shortly after, Martin Orford also decided to part ways with the group he had been a member of since the very beginning. His spot was filled by Darwin’s Radio keysman Mark Westworth, and the band resumed sessions for the release that would become Frequency.

It’s hard to compare this release to previous IQ albums; it holds so many of the familiar signposts that mark it is IQ music, yet in many ways this is a rebirth of a band that has been around for nearly 30 years. Mark Westworth adds a different orchestral voice to the band’s sound, while Edwards is a different drummer than Paul Cook was; not better, not worse, just different (of course, the circle turns, and on tour for Frequency Edwards will be replaced by Paul Cook, as Edwards is taking time off for personal reasons). Peter Nicholls’ voice is a constant, and he’s in fine voice throughout. Mike Holmes has always been a hallmark of the band’s sound, almost more so than the keyboardist (somewhat unusual in NWOBPR bands), and his playing is as incisive and cutting as ever. John Jowitt continues to produce as well…considering how many bands he is in, it is amazing he hasn’t simply run out of notes to play, or fingers to play them with, but his bass work here is as energetic as ever.

You want epic? IQ gives you epic on their opening, and title track. Some sampled radio chatter leads into a huge opening, with plodding, almost martial drums and guitar meshing with lengthy mellotron chords. One pictures some monolithic, massive thing moving inexorably forward, crushing all beneath its feet. The song does not remain thus for long, and some dynamics come in to play. Nicholls is in fine voice, and “Frequency” gives everyone a chance to step into the spotlight for a monent. Of note is the song’s closing moments, which offer a bit of a preview of the massive “Ryker Skies” to follow later on the album.

Gentle piano introduces “Life Support,” rising from the silence that followed the epic closing of the album’s title track. One might be expecting a quiet IQ ballad here, and one would need to be forgiven for that assumption. While we get 2 minutes of piano and Nicholls vocals, things shift massively 2:30 in, as the rest of the band decides to get into the mix. Long suspended notes hang like power lines as the band creates some sublime intensity. Jowitt’s bass notes pulse, Edwards’ drumming is nearly perfect, and Holmes and Westworth channel Steve Hackett and Tony Banks respectively as they trade off expressive guitar and keyboard solos.

While it’s far from the longest piece on Frequency, “Ryker Skies” is perhaps the epic to end all epics here. The song is massive, intense, builds throughout, with fantastic playing and singing from everyone in the band. You wouldn’t know it from the opening moments, filled with gentle singing and guitar playing, but when it hits, it hits with the power of a wall of bricks stopping a car going 60. I can’t pick a highlight here…the vocals and melodies, the sustained guitar lines suspended like eerie cellos, the orchestration…everything fits here. Pre-echoed in the final closing moments of “Frequency” several tracks, ago, “Ryker Skies” is the song I come back to time and time again on this release.

At over 13 minutes, “The Province” is by far the longest track on Frequency. Mike Holmes opens things up with some quiet picked guitar, Nicholls jumps in with quiet vocals, and Westworth adds some subtle keys underneath to richen the palate somewhat. The fast/heavy sectionthat rises from the pastoral opening at 2:30 is mind-blowing, and comes close to surpassing some of the band'’ most intense moments to date; I won’t say that this is IQ doing prog metal, because it certainly isn’t…but maybe some prog metal bands could take a lesson in how to create intensity from listening to how IQ does it.

IQ closes out things with a gentle, poppy, yet expansive track in “Closer.” This is a summer song for sure, filled with bright instrumental colours, light playing, and a positive, happy vibe throughout that really eases things up after the darkness and heaviness of “Ryker Skies” and “The Province.” “Closer” shows that IQs music, and prog in general, is not entirely about bombast and how many notes can be jammed into each moment, but about the playing of musicians with each other, creating intricate and beautiful music that evoke and mirror every side of human emotion. “Closer” is a brilliant closing track, offering a glimpse of light after the darkness.

Unlike the previous Dark Matter, Frequency does not offer up a single massive epic on a similar scale to “Harvest of Souls.” Most of the tracks fall comfortably in the six to nine minute range, with two mini-epics of 10 and 13 minutes respectively adding the length many prog fans long for in compositions. This is a boon for the band; the songs seem more tightly composed and to the point for their relative brevity, allowing room for development while keeping things tight enough to not slip away.

Is Frequency a stronger album than Dark Matter? No. It’s a different album than Dark Matter, and it is all the better for it.

01. Frequency

02. Life Support

03. Stronger Than Friction

04. One Fatal Mistake

05. Ryker Skies

06. The Province Of The King

07. Closer

Peter Nicholls: vocals

Mike Holmes: guitars

Mark Westworth: keyboards

John Jowitt: bass guitar

Andy Edwards: drums

Beardfish/Pain of Salvation replaced on Prog Nation tour

Just read this from Mike Portnoy...when I talked to the Bearfish guys over the weekend, they were so looking forward to this tour too:

"It is with the utmost disappointment that I am forced to share the unfortunate news of both Pain Of Salvation and Beardfish having to pull out of this summer's Progressive Nation tour....

Their label Inside Out just recently lost the financial funding for the tour as a result of their distributor SPV recently claiming bankruptcy...which effectively meant that both Pain Of Salvation and Beardfish lost the tour support that was essential to their ability to come to North America for Progressive Nation.

All parties involved (myself, both bands, Inside Out, etc) are beyond devastated at this turn of events and are truly sorry to all of the fans that were looking forward to this lineup. We tried everything we could do to salvage the situation, but in the end it was not possible...

Well as the album title says, every Black Cloud does indeed have a Silver Lining....so with this unfortunate news, I bring to you the good news of 2 incredible bands that will jumping on board Progressive Nation to join Dream Theater and Zappa Plays Zappa this summer: Bigelf and Scale The Summit.

Los Angeles' Bigelf are my personal favorite new band to come along in many years...their latest CD "Cheat The Gallows" is my favorite album of the year and I already had positioned them onto the European run of Progressive Nation in the Fall....with them now joining us on PN09 in North America as well, it looks like world domination is now not that far out of reach for them! Pretty soon, everyone will hopefully be falling for their retro, psychedelic, progressive, hard rock, doom metal as hard as I have!

Houston instrumental band Scale The Summit are a recent discovery for me and their top notch musicianship will be a perfect fit to this Progressive Nation lineup stylistically falling very nicely between the musicality of Dream Theater and Zappa Plays Zappa. They bring the instrumental elements of prog rock and fusion into today's contemporary hard rock/metal sounds and are one of the most talented group of young musicians I've seen assembled in many years.

Once again, apologies to anybody disappointed in this unexpected and unavoidable lineup change...but the circumstances were beyond our control... In any event, PN09 will carry on and still deliver the most musical bang for its buck this summer throughout North America and we look forward to sharing the evening with you!

Your Progressive Rock Ambassador,
Mike Portnoy "

NEARfest 2009 post 1: purchases

Well, it's time for my annual list of what is driving me into financial insolvency this year...a.k.a. my NF 2009 purchases:

Cabezas De Cera - Hecho en Mexico

Cabezas De Cera - Fractal Sonico 95-05

Trettioariga Kriget - Krigssang

Trettioariga Kriget - War Years 2 CD live set

Beardfish - The Sane Day 2 CD set (reissue)

Beardfish - Fran En Plats Du Ej Kan Se

Quantum Fantay - Agapanthusterra

Therion - The Miskolc Experience boxed set (2 CD/1 DVD)

Deus Ex Machina - Imparis CD/DVD set

IQ - Frequency Special Edition (CD/DVD set)

Gong - Live at the Gong Family Unconventional Gathering DVD

DFA - Kaleidoscope 2 CD set

Marillion - Early Stages 6 CD boxed set

Imagin'aria - La Tempesta

Magma - Studio Zund 12 CD boxed set

I'd say maybe not quantity, but definitely quality, but...there's 3 boxed sets totaling 21 discs in there, 3 2 CD sets, 2 DVD/CD sets...a mess load of stuff to watch and listen to.

CD REVIEW: Taylor's Universe, Return to Whatever (MALS, 2009)

Return to Whatever is the newest release from Taylor’s Universe, the somewhat more composed ensemble led by Danish multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor. On this new release he is joined by a fairly familiar group of musicians, including Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond), with whom Taylor has collaborated several times now, including the excellent Soundwall release from 2007. Also present on Return to Whatever are Pierre Tassone on violin, Carsten Sindvald on saxes, Flemming Muus Tranberg on bass, and Klaus Thrane on drums.

The album opens with the propulsive “Mooncake.” I love the bass and keyboard lines that really drive this song forward. It’s not exceptionally jaunty or fast, but the track percolates along and it’s easy to get swept up in it and go along for the ride. This is a solid opening track that really sets the stage for the music to follow. Speaking of following, “July 6th” is the track that follows, and it opens quietly and gently, with a pulsing bass note and some fragile piano playing courtesy, one assumes, of Mr. Taylor. Some scattered percussion and sustained guitar lines here and there build from moment to moment, slowly becoming a constant rhythm and presence. The tension builds slowly on this piece, and the presence of Celtic harp courtesy of guest Tine Elliot adds nicely to the sound.

Things pick up on “Haunted Yellow House,” as the band plays with heat and passion, Sindvald’s saxophones wailing with unrestrained fire. I absolutely love the opening section of the piece, and while perhaps I’d have liked it to go on longer, it may have lost its intensity had it done so. Tassone gets a chance to shine in the spotlight on this track as well, and his contributions are perfect. A more ambient bit about 2-3 minutes in really helps evoke the haunted theme mentioned in the title. “The Atlas Clock” is a bit more jaunty, with some pleasant flute playing courtesy of Lilholt, and a tick-tock clock like rhythm that gets the body swaying a bit. Add in a bit of crunchy guitar to keep things interesting and simmer for a bit, and you have a nicely diverse summer song to tempt and satisfy your music-loving taste buds.

Things get ramped back down several notches on the opening to “Earth,” with piano and flute leading in the track. It doesn’t remain thus for long, as a driving beat and some excellent organ playing kick in to get the track moving forward. With this section being mostly bass/drums/keys (with a touch of guitar in the background), it’s easy to conjure up shades of ELP chugging along, and this is one of the more symphonic moments on this release…at least till the band breaks down and Sindvald steps into the spotlight to let loose with a wonderful sax solo. A second iteration of this theme allows Sindvald to remain, soaring over the musical foundation with more wonderful tenor sax skronking and wailing. I think in the final analysis, this is my fave piece on the album.

“Pink Island” begins moving things toward the album’s resolution, and all the elements are in place right from the beginning: intense guitar, sax and violin, driving rhythms, quirky, shifting arrangements. I love elements here…the guitar playing is wonderfully emotive, and some of the synth/keyboard work really gets out there. All this leads to the album’s closing track, “Mooncake – Reprise.” And yes, it does what it says on the tin…albeit a bit more expansively (the reprise is a bit more than a minute longer than the actual track it is reprising). Having said this, the fast paced organ and drums at the beginning are a wonderful change-up from anything else on the release, and definitely get that ELP vibe going again. I’d love to see (or rather, hear), more material like this, but that’s one of the more enjoyable things about a Robin Taylor album…you really never do know what exactly you’re going to get from release to release, and from song to song.

One other great thing about most of Taylor’s albums is that they truly are albums…they’re concise, and in the case of Return to Whatever, it’s really classic album length (around 45 minutes). Rather than adding in material to get as close to the limit of what a CD can carry, he gives you the material that is the strongest, that fits the theme or sound he is going for on the release, and then wraps things up. You never have to worry about reaching a point on any of his releases where hitting the skip or fast forward button looks like a good idea. I wish more current musos would take a lesson from him and start releasing albums that excise most of the filler and packing intended to pad things out to 75 or more minutes.

Additionally, Return to Whatever has some of the nicest packaging in Taylor’s continually growing C.V. Packed in mini-LP packaging, the album theme is carried over with some thematically connected artwork that almost tells a story from the outside to the inside. Add in track by track line-up notes, and it’s easy to tell who is contributing what. I might have wished that the inside text was a different colour (yellow text on a predominantly red/yellow/orange backing can be tough at times), but that’s a minor quibble. What’s important is what is encoded in 1’s and 0’s on the shiny silver disc enclosed in the packaging, and on that account the books are heavily in Taylor’s favour. Return to Whatever is another enjoyably solid Robin Taylor release, one which sits comfortably near the top of his lengthy discography.

Mooncake 6:44

July 6th 7:33
Haunted Yellow House 4:21
The Atlas Clock 5:22

Earth 7:16
Pink Island 7:39
Mooncake - Reprise 5:35

Robin Taylor: keyboards, bass guitar, keyboards, et cetera
Carsten Sindvald: saxophones

Pierre Tassone: violins

Michael Denner: guitars

Flemming Muus Tranberg: bass

Klaus Thrane: drums

Tine Lilhold: celtic harp, flute
Louise Nipper: voice


07 June 2009

Hugh Hopper, RIP

No real details yet other than the fact he has been ill for some time and fighting a very admirable battle with cancer for the better part of the last year. One of the truly unique voices in the genre musically is gone...