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Old 12-15-2020, 02:41 PM   #41 (permalink)
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Time to return to my

and look at a time when Pendragon had been around for a while.

Album title: Not of This World
Artist: Pendragon
Nationality: English
Year: 2001
Chronology: 6
The Trollheart Factor: 10

Track Listing: If I Were the Wind (And You Were the Rain)/Dance of the Seven Veils ((i) Faithless (ii) All Over Now)/Not of This World ((i) Not of This World (ii) Give it to Me (iii) Green Eyed Angel)/A Man of Nomadic Traits/World’s End (i) The Lost Children (ii) … And Finally

Comments: I must admit, I was somewhat taken aback to see the scorn and often vitriol directed against the last Pendragon album I reviewed here, their second, Kowtow. I don’t believe in any way it deserved any of that lambasting, but I think fans are united in praise of this one, which comes from a place fifteen years later. Featuring some of their by-now-standard suites, it’s an album that really for the most part needs to be listened to in one sitting; taking individual tracks out - with the odd exception - kind of doesn’t work, as the whole thing flows better when taken as one major work of music. There is, as the album begins, a musical motif that runs through much of the album, a phrase that will recur in other tracks and indeed right at the end, and it opens the album too as “If I Were the Wind (And You Were the Rain)” - surely one of the longest titles to kick an album off - rings out the guitar notes behind sighing wind before percussion cuts in and we’re off.

For a long time, this was one of my favourite Pendragon songs, and I even used it as a wake-up alarm, till it started getting on my tits. Now I’m over that and I love it again. There’s the usual passion and emotion you expect from this band, both musically and vocally from Barrett, who never seems to give anything less than one hundred percent in his performances, whether it’s his voice or his guitar, or indeed his songwriting. I do have to take slight issue with the backing vocals, which have a very Pink Floyd feel, and given my comments about their shamelessly ripping off Roger and Dave and the boys, well, it seems a little much. Still, it’s a small quibble. Beautiful piano work as always from Clive Nolan, and it takes us into the first suite.

“Dance of the Seven Veils” is split into two sections, both pretty much more guitar-driven than the opener, the first part slow and reflective, the second more bouncy and looking back to the likes of “Saved by You”, “Back in the Spotlight” and “Nostradamus”. Being the longer of the two, the second part slows down in the middle then picks up again, running to a big powerful finish and into the second suite, the title track in fact. Here’s where the keyboards of Nolan really come into play as he romps along beside Barrett, over half of the first part of the suite instrumental. Another motif starts here which will continue through other songs, and those Floydian backing vox are back.

Some lovely Spanish guitar here from Nick to take us into the second movement, “Give it to Me” which only lasts just over two minutes and is driven on warbly keyboards into the first real ballad, the sumptuous “Green Eyed Angel”. Beautiful guitar work supplemented by lush synth lines. Even with three suites on the album, the only other standalone track, “A Man of Nomadic Traits” runs for almost twelve minutes. It’s sort of a mini-suite in itself, with changes through its length, an instrumental interlude, two in fact, and some great almost acoustic guitar work from Nick. Nearly half of its run is actually taken up by a superb instrumental section, and it takes us into the final suite, “World’s End”, which is broken into two parts, and in which the original motif comes back into the song, allied to the second in a quite breath-taking masterpiece of musical talent and songwriting.

Here we get almost a reintroduction to the album, the same guitar phrase but extended now, linking later to what I guess we could call the “Not of This World” theme, but the suite begins with “The Lost Children”, which is the larger part of it, seems to be a ballad but kicks up halfway with a big striding keyboard and guitar section that takes us into the closer entitled, rather appropriately, “... And Finally.” This partially reprises “Not of This World” and fades out on the basic motif from that track, essentially a second ballad.

Oddly, my copy, having two extra bonus tracks, also has a bonus instrumental, called “A New World”. It’s short, decent but really more a coda, perhaps an unnecessary one, which might be why it appears only on this reissue I happen to have. The other bonus tracks I can do without, as they’re on other albums already.



Track(s) I liked: Everything

Track(s) I didn't like: Nothing

One standout: Impossible

One rotten apple: Also impossible

Overall impression: One of my very favourite Pendragon albums, this has it all. I feel they may have reached their peak here and this, for me, is a massive step forward, giving them the impetus to go on to even better things.

Rating: 9.9/10

Future Plan: I really need to hear their latest, Love Over Fear...
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Old 12-20-2020, 06:52 PM   #42 (permalink)
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Album title: From the Days of Deucalion, Chapter I
Artist: Leap Day
Nationality: Dutch
Year: 2013
Chronology: 3
The Trollheart Factor: 1

Track Listing: Ancient Times/Signs on the 13th/Changing Directions/Insects/Hurricane/Ambrosia/Haemus/Lilts Doots Nus - Sun Stood Still

Comments: As you’ll work out from the graphic above, this is an album I was not impressed with when I first heard it, and here I’m giving it one last chance. I have to admit, a band called Leap Day doesn’t start me off on the right foot, but I try not to be prejudiced and will give it my best. The opener is a short instrumental, slow kind of jazzy number on guitar, not bad, then the next one sounds like it has promise, big build-up and the vocals don’t start till halfway in. Pleasant enough. Nicely constructed. No complaints so far; gets quite Alan Parsons-y near the end, which for me is no bad thing. Slips nicely into “Changing Directions”, tempo rising somewhat, nice Hammond work, has a kind of Yes/Asia feel to it in ways, touches of Kansas too.

“Insects” starts off with whistling, thunder, nice acoustic guitar opening, gives me a feeling of Big Big Train or early Genesis. Insect buzzing comes in and the track takes on new life, speeding up with a sort of dramatic flair. This is the longest track at just over eleven minutes, and it’s pretty damn cool to be honest. It segues perfectly into the next one, given that it’s called “Hurricane” and the previous ends on the sound of thunder. This however is a much more rocky track, almost heavy psych/blues in its way with quite the shouted vocal, a change for the singer. It is, however, the first one I can’t say I like. Just a little jarring after what they’ve been putting out. Even the Genesisesque keys can’t save this one I’m afraid.

Yeah, well, “Ambrosia” kind of keeps up the sudden dip in quality. I mean, there are nice passages in the song, but it feels as if the album is sliding badly; maybe this is where I decided I didn’t like it. Often the decision, for me anyway, can be coloured by the last few tracks I listen to. Not always the case but sometimes. And it continues into the pretty awful “Haemus” which I just can’t get my head around musically at all. Boo. That’s three poor songs in a row, leaving only one to potentially save an album I was very much beginning to believe I had judged too harshly. Man, this is like something Deep Purple would have rejected from their set list.

Thunder is back for the closer, the very oddly titled “Lilts Doots Nus - Sun Stood Still” - I assume the first is Dutch and the second a translation into English? Anyway, it’s a bit ambient, which is nice, some expressive guitar and soft piano, and I’m guessing it may be an instrumental? It’s an instrumental.

Track(s) I liked: Ancient Times/Signs on the 13th/Changing Directions/Insects

Track(s) I didn't like: “Hurricane”, “Ambrosia”, “Haemus”

One standout: “Changing Directions”

One rotten apple: “Haemus”

Overall impression: Torn on this one. I was definitely beginning to rethink it and then the last few tracks put me back on my original rating of the album. I really don’t know, but I don’t think I’ve changed my mind.

Rating: 6/10

Verdict: The jury has gone to lunch and will probably be sequestered in a hotel for a few days at least.

Future Plan: Not sure as yet.

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Old 12-21-2020, 01:00 PM   #43 (permalink)
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Moving through the decades, we reach the 1990s. Perhaps not the greatest time for prog? We'll see.


Album title: Subterranea
Artist: IQ
Nationality: English
Year: 1997
Chronology: 6
The Trollheart Factor: 1

Track Listing: Overture/Provider/Subterranea/Sleepless Incidental/Failsafe/Speak My Name/Tunnel Vision/Infernal Chorus/King of Fools/The Sense in Sanity/State of Mine/Laid Low/Breathtaker/Capricorn/The Other Side/Unsolid Ground/Somewhere in Time/High Waters/The Narrow Margin

Comments: Leave it to me to choose, not only a concept, but a double album for my 1990s offering! I’ve tried to get into IQ before but always ended up bored. Let’s see if this one can pique my interest. Apparently the story concerns a guy held captive underground and subject to experiments, don’t know why, who is released into the general populace while still under observation. Kicks off with an instrumental, the “Overture”, which is pretty good, then a short, voice and synth only track to take us into the title, which drives along nicely, some good vocal harmonies, lovely sax break, then slowing down for “Sleepless Incidental”, quite stripped back with mostly acoustic guitar for the first two minutes, then it breaks into a keyboard freakout.

More aggressive in its way is “Failsafe”, one of the longer tracks at nearly nine minutes (though nowhere near the longest!) with a lot of sharp guitar and punching keyboards, gets a little Spock’s Beard as it goes along. The first ballad comes in “Speak My Name”, relatively short and quite simple but enjoyable, then “Tunnel Vision” turns the heat back on again, grinding guitars and a slightly snarly vocal, “Infernal Chorus” keeps this pressure up with a lot of romping synth and then a slight interlude for “King of Fools” before vibraphone takes us into “The Sense of Sanity” with a feeling of Peter Gabriel’s “San Jacinto” and a final powerful instrumental to end the first disc.

Another instrumental to kick off disc 2 then “Breathtaker” rocks out and strides along nicely with an almost new-wave sensibility in the music, while “Capricorn” is a little more restrained, though with a lot of passion in the vocal. Another short instrumental in “The Other Side”, then for a moment it sounds like Marillion’s “Garden Party” is starting, but it’s the AOR-influenced “Unsolid Ground”, which is pretty good to be fair. I can’t say an awful lot about “Somewhere in Time” other than it’s fairly mid-paced and I think guitar driven, but as usual with IQ I’m finding it hard to keep my attention on the album. “High Waters” is a piano ballad which leads into the closer, by far the longest track. “The Narrow Margin” runs for twenty minutes, and you know it’s probably really good, but I just have this thing about IQ; find it very hard to keep my interest on their music.

Track(s) I liked: Honestly I think I liked most of them but I couldn’t pick one out individually. Maybe “Unsolid Ground”?

Track(s) I didn't like: See above

One standout: Maybe “Unsolid Ground”

One rotten apple: Nah

Overall impression: You know, I chose this album to try to see if this general boredom I experience with IQ had changed or if it could. It hasn’t, and I don’t know if it ever will. I’m pretty sure it’s a good, even great album, but the problem for me is that it’s a good, or even great IQ album, so it tends to make less of an impression on me. I don’t know what it is, but I usually measure the worth of an album, or at least the impact it has, or doesn’t have, on me, by the amount of songs I’m singing after it’s over. I can’t even remember any of these.


Rating: 7/10

Future Plan: I’m going to keep trying to get into this band. Maybe it’s just a case of finding the right album of theirs and it will all fall into place. Yeah.
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Old 12-23-2020, 03:39 AM   #44 (permalink)
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Leaping seven years forward to


Album title: Pure
Artist: Pendragon
Nationality: English
Year: 2008
Chronology: 8

Track Listing: Indigo/Eraserhead/Comatose (i) View From the Seashore (ii) Space Cadet (iii) Home and Dry/The Freak Show/It’s Only Me

Comments: The first thing you notice about this album is its heaviness. Up until now, Pendragon have not been a band noted for their aggression or power; they’ve had powerful songs, yes, but being a progressive rock band has usually meant being not quite so much restrained or idyllic, but certainly not in your face. Pure changes all that. With a grinding guitar riff, the repeated sound of a dog barking and a bleak lyric, it’s an indication of the direction this band are heading as the first decade of the twenty-first century nears its end. There’s a sense of drama, even danger to this album and the guitar is definitely front and centre. “Indigo” marches along with a swagger that shows a statement of intent from Pendragon, that they mean to be very much relevant in these changing times.

Thankfully, however, melody and form have not been sacrificed for aggression, and it’s the same band, just a sort of version 2.0 which perhaps began with 2005’s Believe, as Nick begins to tackle more real-world and political issues, something which will continue through their next albums and get more prevalent as time goes on. Interesting that the opener, despite not being a suite, is the longest, clocking in at nearly fourteen minutes, also that there is just the one suite on the album, and it’s up soon. First though the biting “Eraserhead” keeps up the pressure, some nice introspective guitar passages leavening it out, but it’s hard to ignore the anger in this song.

The three-part “Comatose” opens with a soft, reflective memory in “The View From the Seashore” riding on Nolan’s lovely piano melody before slipping into the dark, gritty “Space Cadet” which seems to me to look back to the previous “Eraserhead” and focuses on the prelude to a school shooting, ending in a powerful spoken “On Monday, I’m taking in a gun” before sighing its way into the final part, “Home and Dry”, where Nick paints his scorn of religion in loud and proud brush strokes across this masterpiece.

“The Freak Show” again comes in on hard, punchy guitar and references memories, insecurities, dreams, and the album ends on the obligatory ballad, which has certainly been worth waiting right to the end for. “It’s Just Me” is another look back to the past, with some really nice harmonica and perhaps a statement of band unity when Nick sings “We are a band of brothers.” May they never break up.

Track(s) I liked: Everything

Track(s) I didn't like: Nothing

One standout: Possibly “Indigo”

One rotten apple: Nah

Overall impression: A different side to Pendragon; heavier, more aggressive and more politically-directed in terms of the lyrics. A natural progression from Believe and leading on to Passion, four years later. Almost perfect.

Rating: 9.8/10
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Old 12-23-2020, 07:30 PM   #45 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post

Album title: El Dorado
Artist: Electric Light Orchestra

Rating: 9.9/10


I've been listening to this a lot lately, great album. The title track ****in slays.
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Old 12-24-2020, 11:40 AM   #46 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frownland View Post


I've been listening to this a lot lately, great album. The title track ****in slays.
Absolutely. An album with almost no bad tracks, and one of ELO's very best. Glad you enjoy it. Happy Christmas man. Thanks for commenting. Stay safe out there!
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Old 12-26-2020, 10:15 AM   #47 (permalink)
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Time to take a random prog album from the air. Spin the wheel and see where it lands. Let’s see. First spin give us H, then we need a vowel and it’s O. Another spin gives us U. HO-U.Using Prog Archives’ artists list, that gives us five to choose from: Hour of the Shipwreck, Hourglass, House of Not, House of Rabbits and House of Usher. Spinning a 1 gives us then these guys.

Album title: The Hour is Upon Us
Artist: The Hour of the Shipwreck
Nationality: American
Year: 2008
Chronology: 1
The Trollheart Factor: 0

Track Listing: The Chandelier Suite/Save the World/My Fantasy/Soft Napalm Pillow Dreams/Mt. Davidson/Flying/Unclouded Eyes

Comments: I have never even heard of these guys before, and this appears to be their only album, released as it was over ten years ago with no followup. A nice kind of Danny Elfman opening before soft acoustic guitar is joined by very soulful vocal and then building percussion as we enter “The Chandelier Suite”, and it’s a nice start I must say. It powers up after a while and hell yes it’s very impressive, some great guitar work here from either Richie Kohan or Marcel Camargo. The vocal harmonies are nice on “Save the World” with a lovely piano and violin intro, and there’s a much heavier feel to “My Fantasy”. Definitely like what I hear so far.

It’s interesting to see instruments mentioned here like glockenspiel and autoharp, even a pump organ, and the soundscape is certainly full and rich. “Soft Napalm Pillow Dreams”, in addition to being a very weird title for a song, has a real sense of Dan Fogelberg about the vocal, trips along nicely, while “Mt. Davidson” is a lot more acoustic and laid back, with a feel of early Genesis to it, and some great choral vocals - is that a choir? I don’t know: a conductor is credited but no orchestra or choir -oh wait: Discogs tells me that yes, there is a choir - “Choir of the Shipwreck”. Nice. This choir is then used to great effect on “Flying”, which has some very impassioned vocals, the album then ending (too soon) on “Unclouded Eyes” with some really nice, um, glockenspiel? If I have one small complaint it’s the sudden stops, often to allow vocals alone for a few seconds, and they can get a little obtrusive and annoying, but other than that, pretty damn good and it’s a pity they only put out the one album.

Track(s) I liked: everything

Track(s) I didn't like: Nothing

One standout: n/a

One rotten apple: n/a

Overall impression: A very competent album by a band who really should have been better known and more successful. Almost a kind of hard ambient, if you can imagine such a thing. Definite elements of Big Big Train at their most pastoral, and while they can get loud they can never really be accused of rocking out. Mostly it’s gentle, atmospheric music, well written and played, and well sung. Quite a find for my first random selection.

Rating: 9.5/10

Future Plan: n/a
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Old 12-27-2020, 10:42 AM   #48 (permalink)
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Originally posted in The Playlist of Life, December 18 2011


The City Sleeps --- Touchstone --- 2011 (SPV)


Although they've been together since about 2001, Touchstone's first album proper wasn't released until 2007, while their second, 2009's Wintercoast earned rave reviews and widened the band's fanbase considerably. This, then, is their third, and the first released on a major label, which if handled correctly should see Touchstone go from strength to strength and gain even more fans.

At heart a progressive rock/metal band with symphonic overtones, Touchstone are fronted by Kim Seviour, who may be small in stature but certainly not in voice. She and the original founding member Rob Cottingham form the nucleus and present the face of the band, despite her having only joined in 2007, kind of the same way Mostly Autumn is represented by Bryan Josh and Heather Findlay, or was, before Heather's departure to pursue a solo career.

The album opens with strong Marillion influences in the guitar and keys, circa Script and Fugazi, and it's some pretty powerful guitar courtesy of Adam Hodgson that gets “Corridors” underway, then Kim Seviour's clear, sharp vocals cut in and you can see why she's being touted as one of the most promising “new” female vocalists. It's almost Nightwish or Edenbridge, but with a softer edge, less emphasis on the operatic side of the vocals and more on the rock singer. “Corridors” is a fast, uptempo rocker with some really great guitar parts, but it's Cottingham's keyboard work that really reminds me of Fish-era Marillion, or maybe early Pendragon.

One of the longest tracks is up next, ten minutes of “When Shadows Fall”, which starts off very slowly and quietly, building like the approach of a coming train, chiming keys and choral voices gradually getting louder and more powerful, with guitar coming in, quite reminiscent of “The King of Sunset Town” from Marillion's Holidays in Eden. Yes, there are quite a few comparisons to be made with Marillion here, which is no bad thing. It's almost two minutes before hard guitar chords and feedback guitar announce what must be the beginning proper of the song, then as suddenly they're gone, replaced by tinkling piano, then that's joined by angry guitar and loud, loud drums, and abruptly the keyboards cut in as Cottingham does a fantastic impression of Tony Banks at his most classic.

It's almost four minutes before we hear Kim Seviour, but when she starts singing she takes over the song, both with her vocals and her personality. You just can't really listen to anything else once she opens her mouth. The song has by now become a fast rocker, the keys of Cottingham carrying it on a synth-rock infused wave of pomp and melody, then he switches to piano for a beautiful but short little run as the whole song slows down, Hodgson's guitar taking the main melody as Cottingham joins Seviour on the mike. More gorgeous piano, then Cottingham takes over the vocals, Josh-like, before Hodgson launches into an inspired solo, piano keeping pace with him as Seviour goes back on vocals, backed by Cottingham.

It's a real prog-rock masterpiece, and worth the price of the album on its own. “These Walls”, on the other hand, is far less intricate, a straightforward rocker with snarly guitar and an impassioned vocal from Seviour. “Throw Them to the Sky” is another good rocker, full of guitar hooks and with a nice vocal passage by Cottingham in the middle, though Seviour takes main vocal duties on this song, like most of Touchstone's material. Some very brassy keyboard gives the song a feeling of later eighties Yes, while “Sleeping Giants” slows things down with some sweet pizzicato strings on the keyboard from Cottingham and some really nice digital piano in the first ballad on the album, with a truly exceptional keyboard solo and some great guitar providing a really dramatic and energetic song.

“Good Boy Psycho” opens with some frenetic guitar and keys, then settles into a nice mid-pacer, with some pretty heavy guitar work from Adam Hodgson against some progressive keyboard from Cottingham. Never in any danger of getting lost in this musical interplay, Kim Seviour's voice rises high above it all, coasting on the wave and singing out clearly and powerfully, always grabbing the attention. I would, however, single this out as my least favourite track on the album, in fact the only track so far that I haven't been totally impressed with. Just seems a little confused, jumping from idea to idea without any really clear direction.

“Horizons” doesn't suffer from any such problems, powerful and gritty throughout, and “Half Moon Meadow” is a lovely half-ballad, where Rob joins Kim on vocals and they perform a rather outstanding duet. Something very Mostly Autumn about this song, even the melody is quite evocative of Bryan Josh's guitar playing. The song ends on a great combined guitar and keyboard solo, and leads us into the title track, an eleven-minute opus. It goes through some major changes along the way, and features some pretty stunning vocal poetry by Kim as they hark back to the last album, Wintercoast, continuing the story begun there.

The album ends on a little instrumental, called “Corridors Epiphany”. It's interesting but the record would not have been any the poorer had it been left off. A bit of a distraction, but I guess it forms a sort of a coda to the album and to the title track.

I'm very impressed with this. It's the first Touchstone album I've managed to listen to, and now I want to hear more. It's both very up-to-date in its sound and firmly rooted in the progressive rock of the early eighties as already mentioned. Kim Seviour is a fine vocalist and with the rest of the band performing as they do here, I think it may not been too long before we hear about Touchstone outside of rock circles.

Remember the name!

TRACK LISTING

1. Corridors
2. When Shadows Fall
3. These Walls
4. Throw Them to the Sky
5. Sleeping Giants
6. Good Boy Psycho
7. Horizons
8. Half Moon Meadow
9. The City Sleeps
10. Corridors Epiphany
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Old 12-27-2020, 12:07 PM   #49 (permalink)
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No matter what kind of music fan you are, it's a given that you're never going to like every single album you hear in your favourite genre, and this is no less the case with prog. While I've enjoyed most albums I've heard, there have been more than a few that have totally disappointed or just bored me, and here they'll be signposted by

so that you know in advance that what's coming is going to be less than complimentary.

Here's one I hadn't the highest hopes for. I was right not to.

Originally posted in the Playlist of Life under Keyboard Wizards, April 20 2012 (Some slight edits)



Oceana --- Derek Sherinian --- 2011 (Music Theories)


Longtime keyboardist with Dream Theater up to 1999, Derek Sherinian has gone on to found both Planet X and Black Country Communion, and in addition has released seven solo albums, of which this is the most recent. For this album he has gathered together some stellar talent, including Steve Lukather and Steve Stevens on guitars, as well as Tony Franklin and Jimmy Johnson on bass. Sherinian has been called “King of the Keys” by Guitar World magazine, in deference to the rock and almost guitar approach he takes to playing keyboards, and indeed you can hear that right away on opener “Five Elements”, where he easily matches the guitar work of guest Tony McAlpine as he pounds along on a mid-paced rocker which he peppers with a very jazzy piano solo halfway in, showing off his expertise on the piano. Now I'm no fan of jazz, but I have to admit Sherinian knows how to play the keys!

The track returns to rock for the ending, borne mostly on deep organ, with “Mercury 7” coming on on a fast, almost Vangelis-on-speed synth, with nice guitar riffs again from McAlpine, the song rocking along nicely with solid drumming and squealing guitar, getting a nice progressive rock feeling as it rockets along. ”Mulholland” swaggers along on a sort of walking, stride blues/boogie beat, with some elements of jazz thrown in for good measure, guitar duties this time taken by Lukather, Sherinian's keys going back to the organ melody of the previous track, with a nice little honky-tonk solo right in the middle. Gives me the impression of Steely Dan meets ELP, if you can envisage that, or your ears can!

“Euphoria” has much more of a Floyd feel, Lukather doing a passable Gilmour impression at the start, and it's a lot slower, the first slow piece in fact. But instrumental albums by their very nature can be terribly boring, and it takes a lot I find to listen to one all the way through. I think Vangelis is about the only one I can listen to again and again; even my favourite keyboard players like Tony Banks or Tony Carey use vocals on their albums most, if not all of the time. I find my attention starting to wander when there's no vocal to tie the music together - although I love a good instrumental, but a whole album? Hard to maintain the interest.

Also very hard to review, as you're so restricted in what you can say. For what it is, “Euphoria” is a nice change of pace, but it does seem a little overindulgent - the old problem I find with Dream Theater, it would appear, has followed an ex-member into his own solo work, much to my disappointment. Perhaps some habits are harder to break than others. Still, it takes a lot of self-discipline to keep concentrating on the music and to find things to say about it. To his credit, there are only nine tracks, and no epic monsters: nothing here is over six minutes, but even so, six minutes multiplied by nine is forty-five minutes (roughly) of just instrumental music. Tough call.

“Ghost Runner” gets things up and, er, running again, with a splendid solo from the third guitar man to guest on Sherinian's album, the great Steve Stevens. It's a fast, rocky little number with of course plenty of keyboard fills and twiddling, but really it's Stevens' agility on the frets that makes this song what it is. “I Heard That” has a mildly interesting mix of reggae and jazz, with some very good guitar from Joe Bonamassa, while “Seven Sins” revisits Sherinian's prog roots with DT, a nice heavy Hammond and some very seventies-style keyboards, and the title, and closing track, finally introduces a recognisable melody, rather than just a sense of musicians jamming, but at this point it's way too late. I've lost all interest now and am just waiting for the album to end.

You could be kind and say that this album is a display of pure musical expressionism, or you could be unkind and say it's technical wankery and showoffism (is that a word? It is now) where the players just outdo each other to demonstrate how great they are, what notes they can play, how versatile they can be on their instruments. But whichever is the case, in my opinion it makes for a very sterile and boring album. More to the point, being the solo effort from a keyboard player, I found myself hearing more of the guitar than the keyboard, and that surely can't be good?


TRACK LISTING

1. Five Elements
2. Mercury 7
3. Mulholland
4. Euphoria
5. Ghost Runner
6. El Camino Diablo
7. I Heard That
8. Seven Sins
9. Oceana
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Old 12-27-2020, 02:37 PM   #50 (permalink)
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And so we return to our


Album title: The Masquerade Overture
Artist: Pendragon
Nationality: English
Year: 1996
Chronology: 5

Track Listing: The Masquerade Overture/As Good as Gold/Paintbox/The Pursuit of Excellence/Guardian of My Soul/The Shadow/Masters of Illusion/Schizo

Comments: Generally seen as one of their best albums, it’s like with Genesis and Selling England by the Pound - I disagree. It’s a good album, certainly, but for me well behind other efforts, including the oft-maligned Kowtow. Positioned more or less squarely in the middle of their discography, it shows Pendragon as a growing force in prog rock, but there are songs on it I don’t personally like. It kicks off with the title track, and overture it is, complete with orchestra and operatic chorus, very moving, taking us into, rather unfortunately, “As Good as Gold”, which is a real misnomer and as bad a Pendragon track as I’ve come across to date. I just hate it. It’s uptempo, boppy and completely throwaway. The fans who complained about the “trite poppiness” of Kowtow should have been directing their ire at this song, though I will say that it’s at its worst when they edit it down to the basics, as on the bonus tracks. Here the full version has something about it, with a nice piano intro but once you get to the meat of the matter it’s nothing to write home about.

“Paintbox” is much better, with a very reflective feel to it, Nick on top form vocally, some great keyboard work from Nolan, while I have issues with “The Pursuit of Excellence”, which not only sounds as if they’ve filched the main melody - and indeed the lyric - from some Irish traditional song about emigration, but also runs along very similar lines to Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms”. Poor, really, and didn’t they already cover this subject on The World five years ago, when they penned “The Voyager”? The pipes only add to the Celtic feel of the song; well at least it’s short, shortest on the album in fact. And it just about wraps up what might be considered (certainly by me) the weaker half of this record.

The three remaining tracks are all epics, in one way or the other. “Guardian of my Soul” runs for nearly thirteen minutes, and though it starts quite uptempo and rocky it soon settles into a gentle, relaxing rhythm, but again the ghost of Pink Floyd raises its head, where they quite clearly rob the main melody from “Sorrow” off the Momentary Lapse of Reason album. Being as long as it is, of course, it doesn’t stay relaxing and goes through some considerable changes along the way, allowing both Nick and Clive to show off their prowess, then “The Shadow” puts in a good ten minutes, opening on soft piano and gentle vocal, I like the kind of nursery rhyme rhythm in the third minute, and the sort of waltz feel of it too. Still, while I don’t want to keep harping on about the musical plagiarism idea (yes I do) isn’t that a reworking of the closing section of Genesis’s “Entangled” at the end?

Finally, “Masters of Illusion” manages to be the longest track, but only beating out “Guardian of My Soul” by a mere nine seconds. Much of it comes across as a slightly slower version of “Saved by You” though, and it is quite repetitive; not sure it needs to be seconds short of thirteen minutes long. I wouldn’t call it filler by any means but still. In fairness, it does change and morph almost entirely into another song around the five-minute mark, so maybe its length is justified. It might be that I’ve heard the edited version of this and it sounds pretty much all right on its own, so this seems a little dragged out to me. They also use those Pink Floyd-trademarked female backing vocals/choir again, with a very Gilmouresque guitar solo from Nick into the bargain. Reminds me a little of the end of “Comfortably Numb” I think.

Normally I tend to ignore bonus tracks, and to be honest the tracks added on this one deserve to be ignored: edited versions of “As Good as Gold” (only decent because it’s shorter), “The Shadow” (going under the title of “King of the Castle - The Shadow Part 2”) and as already mentioned, the closer, “Masters of Illusion.” However, there is one new track, and it’s actually one of my favourites of theirs, which is why I hate to diss it but I must. Because “Schizo” is basically Floyd’s “Learning to Fly”, ripping off not only both the guitar riff and melody but also, again, those backing vocals, which only serve to emphasise how much like the Floyd song it is. It’s pretty shocking to be honest and I just can’t get my head around how a talented band like Pendragon keep having to rip other bands off. And it must be deliberate: once you could call coincidence, twice maybe unlucky, but I can point to at least half a dozen instances of this wholesale use of other people’s music in their discography, and that’s not good.

Track(s) I liked: The Masquerade Overture/Paintbox/Guardian of My Soul/The Shadow/Schizo

Track(s) I didn't like: As Good as Gold/The Pursuit of Excellence

One standout: Can’t really decide, but despite what I say above maybe “Schizo”, though that’s only a bonus track

One rotten apple: “As Good as Gold”, all day long. I hate it.

Overall impression: A very good Pendragon album but as with SEBTP I don’t see the love it gets. It’s not by any means their best album in my opinion, and while it has a lot (a lot) to recommend it, I see a good few weak spots and it would not even for me be as good as Kowtow or The World.

Rating: 8.2/10
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