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Old 10-10-2021, 09:59 AM   #31 (permalink)
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Originally posted October 7 2012 in The Playlist of Life

Metallic Spheres --- The Orb featuring David Gilmour --- 2010 (Columbia)

Now this is a strange one! Electronic/dance band The Orb are not an artist I would have on any playlist, and I couldn't tell you the names of any of their albums nor their singles, but when I came across this odd collaboration I just had to hear what it was like. With vocals and (of course) guitar taken by the Pink Floyd legend, and with Gilmour co-writing all of the tracks, this looks like it could be very interesting. Or just weird. The album only contains two actual tracks, but each is broken into five separate pieces, and the whole thing still manages to clock in at a quite respectable forty-eight minutes. The two tracks are called “sides” - probably harking back to the times of vinyl LPs - and are called “Metallic side” and “Sphere side”, in that order.

And so “Metallic side” opens on a breathy, humming synth with some spacey sounds, quite Floydesque really, then that familiar crying guitar sound is heard, almost in the background, then getting stronger as what is basically the title track gets proceedings underway, but the unfortunate thing is that no matter where I look I can't get a breakdown of the tracks: every site has this as just having two tracks, and yet there are names for each of the ten “broken-down” tracks within both the, as they are referred to, sides. So I'll be guessing a little at where each stops and the next picks up. But “Metallic Spheres” at least appears to be completely instrumental, kind of Jean-Michel Jarre-like in its rhythm with busy synths and drum machines backing the keening guitar. As it runs on the synth and guitar kind of meld together, the drumbeat getting more pronounced and heavier, then really taking over as they come to the foreground.

Vocals begin to filter in as we hit the tenth minute, and this could be “Hymns to the Sun”, the second track of the “first side”, though to be sure I can't, er, be sure. What I do know is that “filter” is the correct word to use, as Gilmour's voice doesn't suddenly start singing, but kind of fades in, almost echoey as the music continues, his guitar dropping largely out of the music as the synths and drums take over, and then coming back in around the twelfth minute, accompanied by some quite jazzy piano, then some stuttery whistle sounds as the drums and synth lines die away and I would hazard we're into “Black Graham”, everything slowing down now, some muted whispers, little clangy strums of the guitar and some soft whizzing synthesisers, then Gilmour gets going on the acoustic guitar joined by choral synth vocals.

The tempo picks up a little now, sort of tapping along, quite blues/folky really, sort of growing organically into “Hiding in Plain View”, as the electric guitar comes back with moans and wails, low synth humming and swelling in the background, developing into a very ambient piece which probably might not be out of place on a Floyd record itself, and then things get funky with the closing track on the “Metallic side”, around three minutes of “Classified”, with a sort of Spanish/Mexican feel to the guitar and whooshing synthwork, the drum machines keeping a steady beat as the track goes along, taking us to the end of the first track, side, or whatever you wish to call it.

“Spheres side” starts with more spacey keyboards, a jangly guitar low in the background and some bass thumping slowly in, as “Es vedra” opens side two, and wind sounds and thunder accompany the synth melody as the guitar gets louder, drops away, gets louder, and those JMJ-style keys again fade up through the mix. Cheeky little snippet from “Comfortably Numb” thrown in there, then the drums get all powerful and marchy again and the synths ramp up, as indeed does Gilmour's guitar, still a little subsumed in the mix but definitely more audible than when the track began. Think I heard a snatch of the guitar melody from “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” there as well.

Handclap drumbeats then come in as I think the track may be in the process of changing to the next one along, which is entitled “Hymns to the Sun (Reprise)”. I'm not even sure if I correctly identified the original “Hymns to the Sun” on the first side, so I can't say whether or not this revisits its theme, but the guitar slips away and marimba-style keys slide in, the percussion again carrying the tune, and on a weird little chanting sound made I think on Gilmour's fretboard it looks like we cross over to “Olympic”, the same basic tune but with some hard-to-discern vocals now coming in too, faint and faraway. More funky guitar and African-style rhythms on the drums, Gilmour's vocal now easier to hear.

Tempo picks right up then as we head into “Chicago Dub”, with what sounds like a Jew's harp boing!ing all over the place, then sweeping synth coming in before heavy Gabrielesque drumming takes the whole thing up a further notch, adding a sense of drama and gravity to the piece, Gilmour's guitar fading in and screaming through the thing, fading back down to be supplanted by solid synths and then coming back in again as we head off into “Bold Knife Trophy”, the closing track, both of this “side” and of the album. On another heavy marching drumbeat and pulsing bass, it finishes on a rolling, almost strings-like synth with cinematic power, then fading down on spacey keys to the end.


Metallic side
1. Metallic Spheres
2. Hymns to the Sun
3. Black Graham
4. Hiding in Plain View
5. Classified

Spheres side

1. Es vedra
2. Hymns to the Sun (Reprise)
3. Olympic
4. Chicago Dub
5. Bold Knife Trophy

A strange project indeed. Nice and ambient, I must say, and there's the possibility I might want to look further into the work of The Orb. But Gilmour's guitar, though often quite prominent here, is not as dominant as I had expected it to be. Plus there are hardly any real vocal tracks, so crediting him with vocals is perhaps stretching it a little. But certainly enjoyable, if a little frustrating that I couldn't properly delineate the tracks. I guess that doesn't matter really though in the end.

Good music, excellent guitar as you'd always expect from David Gilmour, but ultimately I think I'd probably just have to file under “interesting”, and leave it at that.
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Old 10-12-2021, 03:10 PM   #32 (permalink)
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Originally posted October 1 2015 in The Playlist of Life, as part of Metal Month III

Come with me on a journey back to the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, when there was no such thing as High Definition TV, when you were lucky if you had a telephone at home (mobile? What's that?) and CDs were yet a dream of the future.

A time when men were real men, women were real women, and small blue furry things from Alpha Centauri were real small blue furry things from Alpha Centauri.

A time when then only way you could hear an album was to buy, or maybe borrow it.

A time before itunes, YouTube and Facebook.

A time when Trollheart was young. Yes, there was such a time.

And in that misted, forgotten, ancient time, I began my affair with Heavy Metal.

This is one of the albums that got me there.

Everyone has their favourite Black Sabbath album, and while many go for the early Ozzy period - and with good reason: there are some total classics in there, from the debut to Paranoid, Vol 4 and Master of Reality - and while I'm not saying this is definitively my own favourite, it is the one on which I first heard Ronnie James Dio (though I think prior to that I had heard his contributions to Rainbow on their compilation double album; it would be a little while yet before I bought Rising and realised what a true star he was) and realised there could be “another” Black Sabbath. I had been used to the dark, doomy, gothic feel of tracks like “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “War Pigs” and of course “Black Sabbath”, and even had We Sold Our Soul for Rock and Roll, which naturally, as it was compiled in 1975, contained only Ozzy releases. I was therefore totally blown away by the progressive direction Sabbath took on this, one of only three albums they ever recorded with the diminutive frontman who would go on to give us albums like Holy Diver and Killing the Dragon, and the different vocal style. It must in that case be very much counted as a very integral part of the Metal that made me.

Heaven and Hell - Black Sabbath - 1980 (Vertigo)

When I read about this album, it's in a way a minor miracle it was even made. Ozzy had just been fired from the band after leading them for ten years and eight albums, not all of them stellar but the larger percentage certainly were. Bill Ward was going through personal problems including losing both his parents while also battling his growing alcoholism, while Geezer Butler was in the midst of a divorce. Ward would in fact quit the band mid-tour, though he would return, and Butler only appears on the album because he came back to redo the bass parts that had been originally laid down by another bassist. With Martin Birch, who would later go on to become the legendary producer of Iron Maiden, taking control though things settled down, and Tony Iommi, who was basically holding things together prior to the arrival of Dio and even thinking about starting a new band, working closely with Ronnie, the band dynamic slowly returned and the album began to take shape.

It's a much shorter album, only eight tracks in total, and none of the longer epics that characterised some of the earlier albums are in evidence, with the title track being the longest at just under seven minutes, but there is almost no filler and just about every track is gold. It kicks off with “Neon Knights”, which demonstrates much of what Ronnie would later form into his own albums, particularly “Stand Up and Shout” from Holy Diver and “We Rock” from The Last in Line. His voice is immediately a focal point for the “new” Sabbath, and the lyrics contain more fantasy-themed and to a degree, lighter, fare, with much of Dio's material centred in the worlds of medieval lore and mythology. Iommi is again on fire, at his very best in some of the solos, and it's a great way to start the album, though by no means the best track.

There's a lot in this song that, reading between the lines, can be seen to, or supposed to be reassurance to the fans who, even before the real age of the internet and mass media, must have known about the departure of Ozzy and the problems the band were going through, and wondered if, after ten years, this could be it? When he sings the line ”Nothing's in the past, it always seems to come again” it certainly sounds like he's saying don't worry, it's not quite business as usual, but we're keeping this ship afloat, as again when he confirms ”Captain's at the helm”. And when he roars ”Cry out to legions of the brave” and ”Ride out, protectors of the realm” you can almost feel his pride and determination to ensure that Sabbath continue, grow and even prosper in the wake of the perhaps shock of Ozzy's leaving.

It's time to slow things down already though, and an acoustic guitar from Iommi opens the ballad “Children of the Sea” with a clear, perfect vocal from Dio, who sounds like a minstrel singing in some leafy glade back in the thirteenth century. Suddenly, snarling electric guitar joins thumping percussion as Ward batters his kit, and Butler's big thick bass adds its voice and the song acquires teeth, and if there's a definition of a metal power ballad, this is probably it. The true power of Dio's voice is evident here; you can't quite envisage Ozzy singing this song. There's perhaps a note of self-deprecating humour here, a realisation that ”We sailed across the air before we learned to fly/ We thought that it could never end” and there's a nice sort of vocal chorus thing going on too. Iommi's solo comes just at the right time, and ends before it outstays its welcome, taking us back to the acoustic that opened the song as it reprises for the big finish.

There's a nod to the Ozzy era then in “Lady Evil”, as Dio sings of a witch in the finest Sabbath tradition, but the music is not dark and doomy, rather uptempo rock and blues. If the album has a weak track - and I'm not saying it has, not at all - then I would pick this one. There's just something a little, I don't know, formulaic about it and it doesn't impress me. Which is not to say that it's not a good song, but it's just the rest of the tracks are so great that they make this very good song seem distinctly below par. Even the solo seems a little forced, almost as if Iommi is playing what he thinks he should play, and not what he wants to play. But if this is a weak track, it's the only one, as we run headlong into the easy standout of the album, which also happens to be the title track.

Surely there can't be a metalhead anywhere who doesn't know this song? It's gone on to become one of Sabbath's standards, easily recognisable by its slow, progressive intro running mostly on Geezer Butler's smoky bass, and it conjures up all sorts of images of dark halls and things waiting around corners, or as Pink Floyd would later put it, “hollow laughter in marble halls”. It's a slow, almost threatening, marching beat with a growled vocal from Dio, and flashes of guitar brilliance from Tony Iommi sparking around the edges of the tune like tongues of lightning. It's one of Dio's more philosophical lyrics, with lines like ”The ending is just the beginning/ The closer you get to the meaning/ The sooner you'll know that you're dreaming” and ”The Devil is never a maker/The less that you give you're a taker.” Some very, again, Floyd-like backing vocals with a superb guitar solo before we reach the midpoint and the song undergoes a total transformation, becoming a rocking colossus as it picks up speed on the back of a slowly descending guitar chord.

Flying along, we are treated to an even better Iommi solo before Dio comes in with the last verse, his vocal speed matching the tempo of the song and then leaves Iommi to it as he loses himself in a third solo, each one better than the last. It finally all comes down to earth on another descending chord and into a suitably acoustic ending that fades away.

From there on, Sabbath can do no wrong, as “Wishing Well” punches everything up a notch, trundling along with something of “Neon Knights” in it, allowing Iommi again to have his head, with at times Lizzyesque fervour, while Ward cracks on with a will, and Butler lays down the basslines with what certainly appears to be pride, despite his personal worries at the time. Another standout comes with “Die Young”, which was released as a single. Starting with an atmospheric, spacey synth, it gives way to a rising guitar line from Iommi before it breaks into a mad rush on Ward's thumping drums and Iommi's biting guitars. Dio acquits himself really well here in the vocal, taking complete command of the song as it hurtles along, perhaps echoing an axiom that has been the mission statement of so many teenage rebels: ”Live for today, tomorrow never comes! Die young!”

In the middle, the song slows right down on soft guitar and bass, with sighing keyboard behind it and a gentle vocal from Dio, before it all pumps back up on hard riffs from Tony, a swirling keys passage and punching drums, setting it all back up for the finale, as the band charge to the finish line on Iommi's smouldering frets, the whole thing fading out on another superb solo and bringing in a striding guitar line for “Walk Away”, in which I personally hear “Mystery” from Dio's second solo album, which would not be released for another four years. There's a great sense of pumping joy in this song, led as it is by Iommi's growling guitar lines, including a solo that Carlos Santana would be proud of. A big rousing grinder for the final track then, with “Lonely is the Word” riding on a powerful ringing riff while Ronnie squeezes every ounce of passion he can out of the song. An almost classical guitar interlude then in the second minute before Iommi kicks it up and smoke starts to pour from the frets as he works his magic. Reminds me of one of my heroes, Rory Gallagher, here. Perhaps interesting that this, the first Sabbath album with him at the helm, opens and closes as most if not all of his Dio albums would, with a fast rocker for the first track and a slower, more dark grinding track for the closer. Coincidence?


1. Neon Knights
2. Children of the Sea
3. Lady Evil
4. Heaven and Hell
5. Wishing Well
6. Die Young
7. Walk Away
8. Lonely is the Word

It probably wouldn't be fair to say that Ronnie James Dio reinvented Black Sabbath on this album - Tony Iommi did after all write most of the music and even tried out one of the tracks with Ozzy prior to his departure, so it's not like Ronnie came onboard with all these great new songs - but what cannot be denied is that he injected a new energy, a new purpose and a new sense of direction into a band who, following the disappointing Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die! had been in something of a rut, contemplating their options and considering whether or not the band would even survive. Heaven and Hell didn't quite raise Sabbath's profile - everyone knew them from the time their debut burst like a wonderful dark cloud over music in 1970 - but it did update the band's sound, giving them something more of a progressive feel, an edge they would retain throughout most of the rest of their career, and which would help bring in new fans, new converts to their cause, while at the same time avoiding alienating the faithful.

Back in 1970 Black Sabbath may have sold their soul for rock and roll, and a very good deal it was too. But Ronnie James Dio renegotiated the terms of the contract, and we all benefitted from the new arrangement. That Sabbath not only survived the departure of their frontman and stayed together to release another album (and plenty more after that), but one that would go on to become such a classic and fundamentally redefine the sound of the original (doom) metal band, is nothing short of remarkable.

As is this album.
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Old 10-13-2021, 09:51 AM   #33 (permalink)
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Against everyone elses bitching and moaning about the 'new' line-up, that was one of my favorites. I had the album, but I also had the cassette to listen to on the go. I played that cassette to death, resuscitated it with a new tape head pressure pad, then killed it again and bought a new one.
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Old 10-20-2021, 11:13 AM   #34 (permalink)
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Originally posted June 5 2012 in The Playlist of Life

On the Beach - Chris Rea - 1986 (Magnet)

I've had a strange kind of relationship with Chris Rea down the years: musical only, you understand! He's not one of those artists I'd class as being a favourite of mine; I don't have all his albums (nothing like it) and of those I have got, I don't like or love them all, though I do like the vast majority of them. I haven't followed his discography backwards or forwards, as I usually do when I come across an artiste I like: there are huge gaps in my collection of music from him. And yet, I really do like his music, his style, his lyrics, his melodies.

This album came sort of at the height of my “getting into Chris Rea” phase. Mid-eighties, and I'd heard some of his songs on the radio, had bought Water Sign and Wired to the Moon, nipped back to get Deltics - which was different but still a great album - looked into Tennis and wasn't too impressed, and decided not to go back any further. Following this, I'd buy Dancing With Strangers and The Road to Hell, both of which I'd love, but skip over Shamrock Diaries - don't ask me why; I was a little less disciplined and ordered in my selection of music back then - after which I'd miss out everything up until The Road to Hell part 2 (bad move!) but despite that being a turkey I would continue undaunted to invest in King of the Beach, which was a good move, and then the two-disc Dancing Down the Stony Road, and then stop, not because that was a bad album - far from it - but like Basil Fawlty once said about his chef, I just … stopped.

And I've never really felt the need to go back. It's not that I don't think Rea's current stuff is any good. Maybe I've just got too involved with other music to give his a second thought. Before downloadable music came available I remember staring at my CD collection (about 200 or so) and being regularly stumped by what I should listen to, and wishing I had more but was unable to just go out and buy a new CD, unless I knew it was really good. So my collection tended to get overplayed and thus familiar almost to the point of contempt. Then when the likes of torrents and (ahem!) certain websites selling albums gave me another avenue, I was suddenly able to try out albums and artists I had never heard before, thus allowing me a much wider musical taste and making such questions as should I get the new Chris Rea CD more or less unimportant.

But nonetheless, Rea has had some great albums, and I have never regretted buying any of his. Well, except for one. Probably his best were the earlier ones I mentioned, but I do have a special place in my heart for this one, though I probably couldn't really tell you why. I just know it brings back certain memories for me, but what those memories specifically are, I, well, forget! I should mention also that when I bought this album it was on vinyl (though CDs were available, we couldn't all afford them, and we didn't all have CD players - is any of this making sense or am I talking an alien language?) and so I will be following my usual habit of reviewing only the tracks I know, ie the ones that were on the original album, as I don't know the others, and though I could listen to them, they wouldn't have the same immediate impact on me, or fit into the makeup of the album as those I already know.

The album opens with the title track, a lazy, laidback, carefree meshing of synth and guitar, whistling keys and wind sounds ushering the album in gently till it slowly and unhurriedly takes off on a sort of restrained funky/jazzy beat, Rea's instantly recognisable drawl singing of places he used to go, places that still engender certain feelings years later. He's much more than just a singer and songwriter, and here he plays guitar, keyboards, piano and even fretless bass, though it's a lovely little run on the Fender Rhodes courtesy of Max Middleton that steals the show. It's a song for relaxing to, and though not a ballad, and not necessarily slow, it conjures up images of lying in the sun, or sitting in a chair outside, watching the clouds and drinking something cool, with no worries and no responsibilities or concerns.

More than likely one of the many songs a father who is a songwriter pens for his child, “Little Blonde Plaits” is a slow, dreamy ballad with lovely slide guitar, and though he has two girls, the youngest was only born three years after this album was released, so we must assume this is the Josephine, at this point three years old, who is referred to in “Bombollini” on Wired to the Moon and later on Dancing With Strangers in the song which bears her name. It's okay I guess, with a certain Celtic flavour to it, but I find it a little limp after the supersmooth opener. Things get a lot better though with “Giverny”, which although it starts off like a ballad, on breathy synth and easy guitar, picks up nicely and trots along at a decent lick, with a great solo on guitar and drums at the end.

It shouldn't be supposed or taken for granted that I think this is a great album, without flaws, because it certainly is not. It's a good album, but it does suffer from some weak tracks, perhaps not quite filler, but definitely not up to the higher standard of the better tracks. I've already mentioned that I was not that impressed with “Little Blonde Plaits”, and it's a similar story with “Lucky Day” and the one that follows it, “Just Passing Through”, though both songs have their decent points and things to recommend them. It's seldom - of what I've heard from Chris Rea anyway - that he writes a bad song, but I just feel these few let down the overall quality of the album and stop it from being as good as Dancing With Strangers or King of the Beach, for example.

But for what it is, “Lucky Day” is an uptempo groove-led guitar calypso, with a few reggae touches and what sounds like castanets getting in on the act, then “Just Passing Through”, in contrast, is a low-key, introspective, downbeat ballad with blues guitar licks, some nice bright piano contrasting with some dour notes on the Fender Rhodes, becoming something of a gospel piece halfway, though never rising to the joyous level of a true gospel song. Probably the most existential of the tracks on the album, with its quiet acceptance that no-one lives forever, some nice piano leading it out.

Luckily, that's it as far as the, shall we say, lower quality tracks go, and from here on in, as McCain say, it's all good. A relatively big hit single for him at the time, “It's All Gone” is a boppy, upbeat song with a somewhat bitter message: you can't ever go home, and find things the way you remember them. Time moves on, whether you're there to see it or not, and people and places change. Great synthesiser and some very effective percussion, and a very catchy song. Easy to see how it was so popular. It also features a really good guitar solo, which I think is Chris himself: certainly has his style. Some more great work on the Fender Rhodes too, as Middleton joins forces with Kevin Leach on the keyboards to take the song to its instrumental conclusion in a special extended version to the one that was released as a single.

Chris Rea writes first and foremost about people: about their emotions, their situations, their thoughts, their hopes and their dreams, and “Hello Friend” is another example of that, carried on Chris's fretless bass and Robert Awhai's gentle guitar and a soft percussion, a letter to a friend written in an attempt to reconnect, an attempt he knows is futile. Sometimes distance and time keeps us so far apart it's almost impossible to bridge the gap again. “Two Roads” bumps up the mood again, a jaunty little tune running on a funky guitar and piano line, with some jazzy brass adding joyous heart to the proceedings, then “Light of Hope” is a gorgeously fragile ballad that runs on a deep little bass line and picked guitar, going right back to the laidback, lazy theme of the opener, but slowed right down, Fender Rhodes from Middleton flowing like a river in the background. A breathy, gentle vocal from Rea almost whispers at times, and it certainly sounds like there's acoustic guitar in there somewhere. One of my favourite Chris Rea ballads.

It all comes to a close then on another ballad, a track which we're told is “from the film”, though how many of us have ever heard of, never mind seen a film called Auf immer und ewig is a matter for conjecture. Apparently, it means “always and forever” in German, but my lack of knowledge of the film is unimportant, as this is one beautiful little ballad, and a great way to end the album. There's not a huge amount in terms of lyrics - I think one verse and one chorus - but it's the instrumentation that makes the song; from the deep bassy opening and the sighing guitar to the gently fingered piano notes and the closing synth runs, this is one lovely song. Rea's deep, soulful voice just adds the final layer on an emotional, touching closer.

If you wanted to start listening to Chris Rea, this is not a bad place to start, though in fairness his music has not changed all that much down the years, so you could theoretically start anywhere. But I would definitely recommend this album, especially if you're heading anywhere there's likely to be a lot of sun, a lot of relaxing, and a lot of free time spent doing lots of nothing.


1. On the Beach
2. Little Blonde Plaits
3. Giverny
4. Lucky Day
5. Just Passing Through
6. It's All Gone
7. Hello Friend
8. Two Roads
9. Light of Hope
10. Auf immer und ewig
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Old 10-20-2021, 11:29 AM   #35 (permalink)
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Originally posted November 19 2020 in Racing the Clouds Home

Album title: A Tower of Clocks
Artist:This Winter Machine
Nationality: British (English)
Sub-genre: Neo-prog

Oddly, other reviews of this album have not been as impressed by it as I was, but I spent seven years here vainly trumpeting the music I like, pushing against the slings and arrows of outrageous musical fortune, defending my music and trying to show others what they were missing, what I saw in it that they did not, and I came to the eventual conclusion that it doesn't matter if others don't appreciate your music. If you like it, that's all that matters.

I thought it quite brave that This Winter Machine, a band from the UK who were pushing out only their second album in a career spanning a mere four years (three at the time the list was compiled) would consider opening on an eight-minute plus instrumental, but that's prog for you, and "Herald" has all the hallmarks of great neo-prog. Warbling keyboards, intricate guitar passages, time signature changes, all that good stuff. A big, dramatic, orchestral-style opening gives you a real sense of portent and the first time I heard it, I was waiting for the vocals. They of course never come, as I found out soon enough. A clock begins ticking (geddit?) joined by chimes and then rippling piano slides in as the synth kind of fades out, Gary, sorry Mark Numan ushering us into the album on waves of keys before whining guitar from Graham Garbett and Scott Owens takes the tune.

We're now halfway into the piece and to be honest it hasn't really come to anything yet, but all that is due to change. Percussion kicks in thanks to Andy Milner and we're away. I like instrumentals, mostly, but I find the longer they are the harder it can be to keep them interesting. That's not an issue here, as This Winter Machine channel the best of Marillion, Yes and Pendragon to create their own nevertheless distinctive sound, and the result is a piece of music that, quite possibly, might have been spoiled by vocals, so it looks like they made the right call. Brave though, as I say.

Still, this is a band whose debut album, released in 2017, opened with a sixteen-minute suite, so I guess TWM are not exactly going for the pop single market! Compared to The Man Who Never Was, this album is shorter and snappier, with the longest track on it being the nine-minute closer "Carnivale", a minute shorter than the closer (but not, as I already said, the longest track) on their debut, "Fractured". It is, however, over ten minutes longer overall, with TMWNW coming in at shy of fifty minutes while ATOC runs for just over sixty.

After the epic opener we have two short tracks, "Flying" and "Spiral", both of which could have been released as singles, but I don't think were. The former quickly became one of my favourites, a soulful ballad which introduces us for the first time to the vocals of Al Winter (after whom, presumably, the band is named), led on the gentle keys of Numan, synth and piano meshing to form a beautiful backdrop to Winter's gentle voice. There's a gorgeous hook in the song, and I feel it could have been quite the hit had it been released, but as I say I don't think it was. One jarring thing is the sudden abrupt stops in the song near the end, then “Spiral” is a busier, more upbeat affair, again brought in on Numan's Mark Kellyesque romping keyboards, and it really ups the ante. The shortest song on the album, at just over two minutes, it's another instrumental (long instrumental, ballad, short instrumental? Taking some chances here guys) and leads into the seven-minute “Symmetry & Light” which almost continues the instrumental theme begun in “Spiral” and lets in some harder, almost progressive metal guitar from Owens and Garbett, though much of it reminds me of Genesis on their last outing but one, and the last with Phil Collins, We Can't Dance. Snippets, at times, too of It Bites.

I should also take a moment to speak about the artwork, courtesy of one Tom Roberts (no I don't know who he is either, but with work of this calibre I feel he'll never be short of commissions) which is a real prog rock album cover, reminiscent of seventies Genesis or Rush. That fox reminds me of a certain release from 1972 and the wings look like the owl off Rush's Fly by Night. Echoes, too, of certain album covers by Blind Guardian. Certainly leaves you in no doubt as to what to expect when the laser hits the CD. But back to the music, which is why we're here in the first place. Well, I am. I don't know about you. Maybe you're just here to read my flowing, overblown prose. Yeah. Well, you could do a lot worse than give this album a listen, I can tell you. So like I say, back to the music. Another sumptuous ballad in “Justified”, and yes, again it runs on the delicate piano lines of Mark Numan, who must surely be seen as an emerging talent in the admittedly crowded world of progressive rock keyboard players. I'm not saying he can stand beside a Clive Nolan or a Jordan Rudess, much less a Mark Kelly or (heaven forbid!) Tony Banks, but he's damn good.

The guitar lads are not forgotten here though, and add some really nice touches with some fine soloing, but it's the piano that makes the tune, that and the soft almost tortured vocal of Winter. “In Amber” sees the band continue in the same vein, another piano ballad, and if you don't like ballads, or pianos, or both, then this may not be the album for you, as though there is plenty of rocking out (prog style) and guitars, it's pretty replete with soft piano moments and yearning vocals. I, however, love all that stuff, so I'm in hog's heaven. “The Hunt” then has a vaguely folkish feeling, reminds me at times a little of Jethro Tull, a band I don't rate personally. It quickly punches up though into a slowburning rock cruncher, as I like to call them; one of those songs that kind of marches along with a sense of menace and determination. It does pick up speed later on though, and this rising power and energy informs “Delta” as the album heads towards its close.

Some very new-wave-ish keyboards here from (ahem) Numan, with the guitars really getting in on the act, growling along as Garbett and Owens exult in being let off the leash, while Winter himself does a very passable Gabriel as the song slows down on piano around the midpoint before the hook comes in, and it has been well worth waiting for, as Winter and Numan again show what a great team they can be almost on their own. Great flourishes added on the guitars, but the song here belongs to the two guys as Winter gives the vocal performance of the album. I'd probably have to choose, overall, this as my favourite track, though there's a lot to choose from, and it's not quite over yet.

One more supremely beautiful reflective ballad, this time for once driven on mostly the acoustic guitar of Scott Owens, some truly sumptuous synthesised flute from Numan and another fine vocal from Winter, on “When We Were Young”, the only caveat for me being a rather abrupt ending, then we hit the closer, which as mentioned, is the longest track, nine minutes and ten seconds of “Carnivale”, which, appropriately enough, opens on a carnival organ, reminding me of the best of The Dear Hunter before soft piano and crying guitar take the tune. Percussion kicks in and the whole thing ramps up on heavy guitar and synth, giving Winter a chance to really stretch his vocal chords. Rippling piano here reminiscent of “Raingods Dancing”, part of the suite “A Plague of Ghosts” from Fish's album, Raingods with Zippos. And speaking of Marillion, there's some very liberal borrowing from Steve Rothery and indeed Mark Kelly on Fugazi here in the sixth minute, before the whole thing comes to a very satisfying and powerful end.

1. Herald
2. Flying
3. Spiral
4. Symmetry & Light
5. Justified
6. In Amber
7. The Hunt
8. Delta
9. When We Were Young
10. Carnivale

This is only as I say their second album, and while I haven't yet had a chance to sample the debut, I expect it to be just as good. This Winter Machine have set a very high bar for themselves, but I have no doubt that they will continue to reach it, and who knows, on future albums, even exceed it.

Rating: 9.5/10
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Old 10-20-2021, 11:37 AM   #36 (permalink)
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Originally posted December 15 2015 in Trollheart's Listening List

Title: Anthracite Fields
Artist: Julia Wolfe
Year 2015
Nationality: American
Familiarity: 0%
Genre: Contemporary Classical

Expectations: I thought contemporary classical was a reasonably safe bet. Yeah...

1. Foundation: It's very quiet for most of the opening (runs for like nineteen minutes) apart from some clashing drums and piano I think that break out, then a low male vocal choir starts chanting, getting faster and more insistent, then female choir coming in too. Some more music added in now, guitar I think and maybe oboe or clarinet as the female vocals take over. We're about ten minutes in now. Big punching vocal in the fifteenth minute, attended mostly by stabbed piano and now the male vocal choir is advancing into the piece, the two eventually joining for a choral rendition to take the track towards its end. Not really my kind of thing, but good for what it is.
2. Breaker Boys: This one's only (!) fourteen minutes long, and starts off more boppy and uptempo, getting right into it with a peppy clarinet and double vocal from the male and female choir. Sort of think I preferred the first track already! Yeah, it's only four minutes in but I already don't like this much at all. There's nothing of the gentle undertones of the first track in this; it's just a little too lively. Okay, suddenly it's beginning to settle down on a slow male choir. Wolfe uses something she calls the Bang On A Can Allstars and to be honest, in minute nine it sounds like that's exactly what's happening, as female vocals rise into the mix. Now it takes off into a sort of rocking rhythm somewhat in the vein of “We Didn't Start the Fire” to a degree. Yeah, liking this less as it develops. The stupid chant of “I am the king of the castle” at the end does nothing to change my mind.
3. Speech: Something of an Indian twist to this, more choir work , slow doomy percussion. Meh.
4. Flowers: Nice acoustic guitar start, soft and flowing, gentle voices. Some very nice violin and cello, a lot more relaxed.
5. Appliances: And a twelve-minuter to end. It's been something of an endurance test and I can't really see this one making it any easier an experience for me. Sort of broken-up vocals here, with some nice but slightly distorted piano. Gets pretty intense, but to be honest I'm just waiting for it to be over now.

Final result:I wouldn't want to put down what she does, as I'm sure this is a great composition, but it is definitely not for me. I prefer my music a bit more, shall we say, musical? Frownland probably loves this, which tells you how much I don't. It's clever, it's deep, it's well-produced, but it's not something I'd listen to again.

Rating: 2/5
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Old 10-20-2021, 11:42 AM   #37 (permalink)
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Originally posted November 14 2017 in Trollheart Listens to Every Album on Wiki's List for 2017

Album title: Millport
Artist: Greg Graffin
Genre: Country
Nationality: American
Release date: March 10
Position in Discography: Third
Fear Factor: Moderate
Familiar with this artist? No
Familiar with the genre or subgenre? A little
Average RYM Score: 3.04
Interesting. A punk rocker gone country. Singer with Bad Religion, Graffin went solo in 1997 and this is his third album. Um, okay, how do I say this without giving offence? This is, what's the phrase? Oh yeah: ****ing brilliant! I'm totally into this from the first note: hard-edged country with a real feel of honesty. Just listen to “Lincoln's Funeral Train”. Unbelievable. I can't believe this guy was a punk: he sounds like he was brought up on a ranch riding a horse and shootin' beer cans in the yard. Title track's another great song, but then I think I could say that about every track here so far. There's gospel then in “Time of Need”, utilising the old “Amen” refrain. Su-****ing-perb. Lots of bluegrass too. Just an excellent album, and it will take quite something to top this on my list at the end of this month.

Check out more from this artist? Oh hell yeah
Check out more from this genre or subgenre? Yes

Expectation Index: 10
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