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Old 12-28-2020, 09:41 AM   #51 (permalink)
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Originally Posted in Bitesize January 25 2013


Artist: Porcupine Tree
Nationality: British (English)
Album: Signify
Year: 1996
Label: Delirium
Tracks:
Bornlivedie
Signify
The Sleep of No Dreaming
Pagan
Waiting Phase One
Waiting Phase Two
Sever
Idiot Prayer
Every Home is Wired
Intermediate Jesus
Light Mass Prayers
Dark Matter

Chronological position: Fourth album
Familiarity: Fear of a Blank Planet
Interesting factoid: This was the first album on which there was a full band; prior to this the other three albums were all more or less Steven Wilson solo efforts (though under the PT banner) with various session musicians.
Initial impression: Um...?
Best track(s): Sleep of No Dreaming, Signify, Waiting Phase One, Idiot Prayer, Every Home is Wired, Light Mass Prayers, Dark Matter
Worst track(s): Nothing bad. Some weird ones. Bornlivedie is a bit odd, as is Intermediate Jesus
Comments: I've had this strange relationship going with Porcupine Tree for a few years now. Initially I thought they were a new band (!) but on downloading their discography it quickly became apparent they've been around for some time. 1987 in fact, although their first album proper didn't hit the shops till four years later. In that time they've established themselves as one of the most innovative and forward-looking rock bands on the planet, almost literally the quintessential progressive rock band. Nevertheless, apart from one album (as above) I've never listened to anything of theirs all the way through; it's been playlists and songs taken out of context. Time to change that.

Some of the material here is purely instrumental, as in the title track, some just weird electronic sounds and tape loops, as in the opener, and then there are ballads, out-and-out rockers, psychedelic and space rock numbers, and everything in between. Through and above it all shines the undeniable presence and genius of the band's founder, Steven Wilson, and you only have to listen to his latest solo album, Grace for Drowning, to hear how eclectic his influences are, and how many different genres and sub-genres make it into his music. There are elements of Pink Floyd (of course) in "Sleep with No Dreaming", with a dramatic, threatening bass line from Colin Edwin, while "Waiting Phase One" sounds to me more like the more mellow sound of current Hogarth-era Marillion, with strong acoustic guitar and a sense of folk in the mix. Its companion piece, "Waiting Phase Two" is completely instrumental and runs for over six minutes on a funky bass and calypso-style drumbeat.

It's pretty amazing that Porcupine Tree can have six and seven minute instrumentals on this album, and they don't ever get boring. Taking very much from the Floyd playbook, they use tape loops, sound effects, recordings and other gadgets to fill out the tracks, and yet they don't seem like they're just being used as filler material. These instrumentals really work as pieces in their own right: witness the pretty incredible "Idiot Prayer", not to mention the stunning "Light Mass Prayers": these guys know how to construct a piece of music!

The jury remains out for me on Porcupine Tree. Some of their music I love, some just comes across as too weird, but there's no doubting their honesty and integrity, and it's clear much time goes into each of their compositions. No band to write hit singles, they! I think I may just have to spend a little more time submerged in their world to get a feel for what the rest of their work is, but I have this feeling I'm going to enjoy it. Mostly.
Overall impression: A varied album, with some great and innovative instrumentals, some powerful tracks and obviously a lot of heart and soul in their music.
Intention: Probably going Up the Downstair next, then may switch on the Lightbulb Sun. We'll see where it goes after that.
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Old 12-28-2020, 09:50 AM   #52 (permalink)
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Originally Posted in Racing the Clouds Home, December 6 2016


Evership – Evership – 2016

I'm always just a little wary of bands using the word “ever” in their name. There are so many – Evertale, Everfriend, Evergrey, Everon, Everwood, Everflame .. the list goes on. It seems to be one of the most popular prefixes for prog and power metal bands, conjuring up images of sword-and-sorcery, mythology and fantastic creatures. Reading up on this one however, there seems to be a pretty lavish history behind it, with composer and multi-instrumentalist Shane Atkinson having made music mostly his life during the eighties and nineties, then dropped it to concentrate on software production, at which he found himself extremely talented. The music in his head however, he says, haunted him during his success and he knew he had to get it out to the world. So making some major lifestyle changes and building his own recording studio, and indeed creating a company to finance his debut album, the Evership project was born. Ten years and more in the making, it's a little odd that the article on ProgArchives speaks of his hope that the album might be released in 2017, and yet here it is on their list, so I can only assume it made it ahead of time. Oh, I see they're talking about the vinyl album; the digital release has already hit.

In typical prog fashion, this debut album only has six tracks, with three of them broken up into suites. Even so, that's still just short of one hour of music altogether. We open on “Silver light”, with a rising guitar and orchestral sound, almost, but not quite, like an orchestra tuning up, and this stretches on for almost a minute before what I think may be theremin comes into the mix (though with the amount of instruments played here, including something that's called “experimental guitar” I could very well be wrong!) and then the vocal comes in. This really grabs your attention, a high, powerful mix of Benoit David and Justin Hayward as Beau West takes control of the song, which begins to rock under the powerful guitar riffs and insistent percussion. Apart from Atkinson and his brother, the latter of whom plays most of the guitars, there are two other guitarists here, and a full choir, so it's quite the wall of sound with yet a kind of progressive metal feel.

The opener itself is over nine minutes long, but never seems to drag, and is full of clever musical ideas, as you would probably expect from someone who has composed for film and TV for most of his life, some very seventies-sounding melodies which recall the best of Genesis and Yes, with lovely violin from Nicelle Preibe adding to the overall sonic mosaic being woven here. The next track is one of those multi-part suites, but as there are no timings shown it may be hard to know where one part ends and the next begins. The overall thing is called “A slow descent into reality”, and opens on quite Jonathan Cainesque piano, certainly more what I would call AOR than prog, but then Atkinson doesn't claim to play prog necessarily, just music he likes. After what I take to be the sound of a car crashing (Spock's Beard on Octane?) we get a more ripply piano more or less solo with the vocal, then some a good thick synth line as the vocal continues in a slightly softer vein before the keys run off on their own.

I definitely get flavours of Sean Filkins' solo album here, especially in the female backing vocals and the narrative of the song. About halfway through now and a big meaty synth line takes over before acoustic guitar joins in and the vocal returns; very Yes this, I feel. Powerful stuff. The choir adds its voice now as we head into the eighth minute and then a kind of Rushesque (circa 2112 or Hemispheres) guitar instrumental section followed by a real workout on the organ. Everything stops completely at just over the tenth minute mark as West screams ”There must be something beyond!” introducing another extended instrumental, which really allows Shane Atkinson to show what he can do on the drumkit. And so we move into the denouement of the piece, and it all fades away, after all that, very quietly and simply.

“Evermore” reminds me of nothing more than the very best of Tony Banks, especially on his solo album A Curious Feeling, and is another long track, just over ten minutes but this time only broken into two. It begins with an extended instrumental which breaks down into a single piano line as West comes in with the vocal, Josh Groban-like, very gentle but strong at the same time. Nice backing vocals too, possibly the choir although I don't think so somehow. Around the fourth minute it kicks up a gear, hard electric guitar coming in and rocking the whole thing, joined by keyboards. Sounds like my favourite, mandolin, in the seventh minute, though in general I would have to say I'm not as impressed with this as I was with the first two tracks. It's good, but somehow it just isn't quite grabbing me in the same way the other two did. “Utima thule” is also ten minutes plus, and it opens with a nice acoustic guitar with some ambient sounds, the vocal gentle and relaxed behind a peaceful piano line. Quite pastoral, and definitely the closest this album has so far come to a ballad, though with a length of ten minutes I guess it could easily change. And it looks like it's about to, as hammering percussion pulls in electric guitar and the pace is picked up.

Here's where the choir really shines, laying down a sumptuous vocal backdrop against which Atkinson plays some serious keyboard flurries before it all settles down again and Ncelle's violin takes us to the conclusion, and into the last, and longest, track we go. It's another multi-part suite, which goes under the umbrella title of “Flying machine”, and runs for just shy of fourteen minutes. A nice rippling guitar and keyboard line get us started, with angelic vocal harmonies coming in to supplement Beau West's singing, slight touches of folk about the melody. More serene violin and what sounds like uileann pipes (though none are credited; could it be the theremin?) then things begin to get more intense as we move into the fourth minute, the choir blasting out before we head into I guess the second of the three parts of the suite, opening with birdsong and muted voices and effects, distant violin and then louder, darker voices. A rising guitar pulls us in and then it's a building instrumental section up to the seventh minute, when it briefly explodes as West asks ”Are you sure it won't fall down?”, immediately followed by a soft guitar line and then expanding on the sung line and developing the theme on electric guitar with a rocky feel to it. We're now in the eighth minute.

Things slow down now on a kind of melancholy line, a certain sense of The Alan Parsons Project detectable in the melody, at least to me, and then it takes off again like the machine in the title, soaring and swooping through various instrumental passages as it heads towards its eventual conclusion. That leaves us with by far the shortest track on the album to close with, less than two minutes of the oddly-named “Approach”. Surely such a track would have been better at the beginning of the album rather than the end? As it happens, it's noting more than a sound effect really, synth or guitar feedback setting up the impression of something, well, approaching. A little disappointing to say the least.

TRACK LISTING

1. Silver light
2. A slow descent into reality
(i) Everyman
(ii) A slow descent
(iii) Wisdom of the ages
(iv) Honest with me
(v) The battle within
(vi) Anyman
3. Evermore
(i) Eros
(ii) Agape
4. Ultima Thule
5. Flying machine
(i) Dreamcarriers
(ii) Dream sequence
(iii) Lift
6. Approach

I suppose I had expected, given all I've read about this guy, to be more impressed than I have been. It's a decent album and there are some really good ideas in it, and for a debut it is pretty good. I just didn't find myself blown away by it. Perhaps it's the old first-time-listen syndrome, and it will grow on me with repeated listens. If I decided to repeat the experience.

Still, a very competent album and on the strength of what's here, and given what Atkinson has sacrificed to be where he is today, I'd say it deserves its place just outside the top twenty. Definitely worth a listen. More than that? I really can't say at this time.
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Old 12-28-2020, 10:00 AM   #53 (permalink)
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As probably everyone knows, I have literally thousands of albums on my hard disk waiting to be listened to. Some of them may be there, still untackled, after I die. But I’d like to make a start here by choosing one and, as it were, diving into the pile.

Hopefully I won’t come off as badly as Peter Griffin did above, though I imagine there will be some of these albums that will very much fail to live up to any expectations I may have had. Still, the only way to find out is to start chipping away…

So here I go.

Album title: Silverfade
Artist: The Dreaming Tree
Nationality: English
Year: 2015
Chronology: 4
The Trollheart Factor: 0
Why did I download this? I liked the name, and it reminded me of several other “trees” - the song “The Hanging Tree” on Arena’s 1998 albumThe Visitor, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman’s album The Wishing Tree, and the band The Winter Tree, to name but a few.

Track Listing: Yesterday’s Tomorrow/Heart Shaped Bruises/Yours to Find/Forever Not Forever/Cherry Winters/Autumn Haze/Higgs/Jaded Summer Long/Every Minute Lost/Loose it Off/Song in 7/The Ocean/Kosovo/Zero to Type One

Comments: Okay well it sounds a little more like, I don’t know, a heavier Spandau Ballet when “Yesterday’s Tomorrow” begins. That’s not anything bad, but it sure doesn’t sound like prog rock to me, not even the prog pop of the likes of It Bites. I do like it though. Yeah it continues really rocky, the organs add some prog street cred but it’s sort of hard to see this as anything other than a straight pop rock album at the moment. “Heart Shaped Bruises” (hardly a prog song title) doesn’t do anything to change that, though again I really like it. Let’s see: Discogs calls this prog rock all right, but Prog Archives describes it as Crossover Prog. Probably closer to the truth I feel.

“Yours to Find” is another good uptempo track (wondering what these guys do with a ballad) with some very, er, ringy guitar, and now we may find out how they handle ballads, as Forever Not Forever” starts off slow and gentle, with a really lovely reflective guitar and synth sounds - oh but now the guitar is riffing and the percussion… nah, forget it. Another rocker. Well not quite. It does slow down after a bit into a kind of jazzy groove, and there’s some pretty superb guitar and a really nice piano passage. More of what can only be called jazz guitar on “Cherry Winters”, which might be the first track here I don’t like no I’m wrong, the chorus/bridge changes it totally. Don’t like the verse though. Ooh! Some really nice squealy organ, almost Bontempi. Retro! Superb blues guitar solo.

Almost heavy metal then for “Autumn Haze”, stomping along like a good thing, but it’s very basic rock and I can’t see this as any sort of prog. It’s completely guitar-driven, hardly even a role for the synth at all. Nah. Don’t like this one, not one bit. Okay there’s the organ now, but it’s definitely playing second fiddle, and yes, I’m aware that’s a mixed metaphor. “Higgs” doesn’t do anything for me either, but at least it’s short, as is the next one, just over a minute and a half, though “Jaded Summer Long” doesn’t do anything to re-establish the quality I was hearing from the beginning of the album, almost a punkish style to it. Not for me. I have higher hopes for “Every Minute Lost”, with a Jadis-lite sound, and a Pink Floyd style female vocal halfway. Yeah, much better. Not that it could have got much worse, to be honest. Let’s hope we’ve plumbed the depths, reached the valley floor and are now heading back on up the hill.

Well, I don’t know. “Loose it Off” (huh?) sounds kind of like a country music ballad, quite the Eagles feel to the vocal harmonies. I mean, again, I like it, in fact I really like it, but there’s no way I would consider it prog of any shape. Hmm. Now it’s turned into a kind of rocky rap. Very strange but quite appealing. “Song in 7” (again, huh?) is also very good, nice sharp guitar with quite the punch, while “The Ocean” kicks off with some lovely harmonica and gives me hope this may be the ballad I’ve been waiting for. Yeah it is. And it’s been worth waiting for too. “Kosovo” is pretty laid back too, not what I would have expected I must say. Gets pretty intense and dramatic later; one of the better tracks for sure, so it can be said that after a considerable dip this album is aiming to finish strongly. Well maybe not quite: “Zero to Type One” is a pretty heavy-handed “better wise up or we’re all going to die” sort of song which doesn’t do a lot for me, but it’s not terrible. Still, the album could have ended so much more strongly.

Track(s) I liked: “Yesterday’s Tomorrow/Heart Shaped Bruises/Yours to Find/Forever Not Forever/Every Minute Lost/Loose it Off/Song in 7/The Ocean/Kosovo”

Track(s) I didn't like: “Autumn Haze/Higgs/Jaded Summer Long”

One standout: “The Ocean”

One rotten apple: “Autumn Haze”

Overall impression: A really good album but I struggle to recognise or describe it as prog. Just seems more like straight-forward rock or even pop rock with the odd bit of proggy keyboard thrown in. No suites, no odd time signatures, no particularly strange lyrics. Enjoyable, but not prog, not for me.

Rating: 8.5/10

Future Plan: Probably unlikely to listen to the rest of their material but I don’t regret having listened to this.
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Old 12-29-2020, 10:02 AM   #54 (permalink)
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The month (and indeed the year) is fast disappearing, so let's get back to our

and jump back three years from the last Pendragon album we looked at. Yeah, let's take a squint through

Album title: The Window of Life
Artist: Pendragon
Nationality: English
Year: 1993
Chronology: 4

Track Listing: Walls of Babylon/Ghosts/Breaking the Spell/The Last Man on Earth/Nostradamus (Stargazing)/Am I Really Losing You

Comments: This album highlights one of the bugbears - perhaps the only - I have with this band, encapsulated mostly in the opening track, which we’ll get to. In terms of those, it’s quite short on them, only a total of six actual songs, though two are in the double-figure minutes range, and a third comes close. It opens on “The Walls of Babylon”, which has a dramatic organ start then kicks up nicely, though it ends pretty awful really. My problem is where they basically rip off Supertramp, word for word and melody for melody from the song “Hide in Your Shell” off the Crime of the Century album, to say nothing of a very “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” opening, and a shameless rip off of Genesis on “Watcher of the Skies”. Sigh. Plagiarism times three on one track. Ruins an otherwise pretty damn good song,

Lovely piano work from Clive Nolan on “Ghosts” nut here again the old problem rears its head, as they clearly copy Genesis on “Firth of Fifth” with a keyboard riff just basically stolen from that song. Oh, and the opening to “Dance on a Volcano” too. Double sigh, perhaps triple sigh. It’s hard to take these (admittedly very good) songs on their own merits where Pendragon are so liberally helping themselves from the pot of ideas cooked up by their elders. “Breaking the Spell” is the first, so far as I can see, on the album to have all original ideas, and it’s the better for it, allowing Barrett to really show what he can do on the guitar. From one epic to another, the longest in fact, as “The Last Man on Earth” runs for almost fifteen minutes, and as it contains the title I always imagined it was the title track. In fact, there is none but that doesn’t matter. If there’s a central theme song to the album this is it.

It opens with a soft, lush section and then kicks into a more uptempo vein, though again I have to mark the Genesis influences with the midsection where they reuse the outro from “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight”. Just cant get away from the desire to copy Genesis, it seems. Also a harkback to The Wall’s “Waiting for the Worms” before it again jumps into rocking life and ends very well to be fair. I really like the build-up to “Nostradamus (Stargazing)” with again a bouncy beat and simplicity that looks back to “Saved by You” and “Back in the Spotlight”, but hiding within the basic almost commercial melody are layers of sounds and ideas perhaps not at first apparent. The album then closes on a sumptuous, aching little ballad, “Am I Really Losing You” ending with the most beautiful little echoey guitar fade-out I’ve heard in a while.

Track(s) I liked: Everything

Track(s) I didn't like: Nothing

One standout: All equally excellent

One rotten apple: Not in this barrel!

Overall impression: A great Pendragon album, a real stride forward from the debut. Some beautiful instrumental work, some great ideas, some powerful vocals and evocative lyrics. If only they could be a little more original...

Rating: 9.4/10
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Old 12-29-2020, 07:46 PM   #55 (permalink)
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Originally Posted in Racing the Clouds Home, December 9 2016
(Some slight edits)

You certainly have to hand it to prog bands when it comes to names. They come up with the weirdest ones, both for albums and songs and also for the bands themselves. I mean: “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”? A Trick of the Tail? Lark's Tongues in Aspic? Now we have the oddly-named Elephants of Scotland who, just to confuse you, are not Scottish at all, nor even British, but hail from the USA. Why did they choose this name for their band? Who knows? But they've been around since 2010 and are the project of yet another multi-instrumentalist, Adam Rabin. Anything to Yes's famous guitarist? I don't know, but his entry in Wiki doesn't mention any brother or son, so I'd assume perhaps not.


Execute and Breathe – Elephants of Scotland – 2014
Since their formation the band, who tend to prefer the abbreviation EoS (not to be confused with the famous Canon camera!) appear to have been busy, releasing a total of three albums in four years, with their most recent only hitting earlier this year. This however is their second, and though I admit I have not yet heard it all the way through (until now, that is) I have heard the odd track while shuffling through my ipod, and what I've heard has certainly left me wanting to explore further.

So let's do just that.

An almost orchestral intro is quickly supplanted by a funky bass and then warbling keyboards of the kind our departed friend Urban Hatemonger always hated as “A Different Machine” gets the album underway. EoS seem to be one of those bands who switch up the vocals a la Alan Parsons Project and others, and here I find Dan MacDonald, who only sings on this and one other track, very reminiscent of Marillion's Steve Hogarth. A good rocky opener, slowing down in the middle before heading off on a super keyboard solo. Although I am only now experiencing the album for the first time as I say, it seems to be gaining favourable reviews, as ProgArchives have assigned it a four-star rating. The band also performed at the annual Marillion Weekend festival in Montreal and received a standing ovation, so they must be good.

The opener is good, but I'll admit I'm not salivating or anything. It's competent prog, certainly, but is it anything to get excited about? Well, not yet, not for me, but we've a long way to go yet. “The Other Room” has a nice guitar and keyboard line running through it, with a repeating guitar riff in the background acting as a kind of motif. It's a good rocky tune, but again I don't see it being anything terribly special. Adam takes the vocal here himself; not sure whether I prefer his singing to that of MacDonald. I do like “Amber Waves”, with its soft then harder piano line and which I assume is the first ballad on the album. There's definitely something catchy about the melody, which is something I have not been able to say up to this point. There's kind of a sense of Deacon Blue about it in parts, I feel. Some very nice keyboard passages, courtesy of Adam, who also takes vocals here. This is the longest single track on the album, just over eight minutes, which is good in a way as there are no twenty-minute prog epics to contend with. They can be great, as in “Supper's Ready”, or terribly boring, as in “The Last Human Gateway”, so it's always something of a gamble when you see one on an album, and you do, more often than not. Nice to see EoS breaking the pattern.

“TFAY” has an atmospheric little run-in, crying guitar, honking synth, barely-there percussion before it powers forward on rolling drums and sharp guitar, kicking into a nice eighties Genesisesque run. The third and last vocalist on this is guitarist John Whyte, who has a vaguely more feminine sounding voice, slightly Anderson-like. The song is a nice uptempo rocker with some great guitar, good strong ending and we're into “Boxless”, which opens on phased guitar and a sort of ticking percussion with darkly ominous synth. Adam Rabin is back on vocals, the guitar betraying an early Police influence, with a certain sense of the east in the melody too. A slower track than the previous one, I still wouldn't call it anywhere close to a ballad, and there's some nice exuberant keyboard running through it.

Although I said “Amber Waves” was the longest track, and it is, I qualified that by saying it's the longest single track, because if you add parts one and two of “Endless” together you get a total of over eleven minutes. Part one opens very like the closing section on “Forgotten sons” by Marillion; hard guitar, rolling keys, bouncy rhythm, and again it's Rabin who retains the mike for this song, though the first part is instrumental. It's his last stint on vocals as part two begins, this running for close to eight minutes and starting off on a very gentle acoustic guitar, everything slowing right down for a very reflective second half. Or not. Midway through rolling drums crash in and warbling keyboard kick up the tempo considerably before ending on a nice soft piano line. We come to a close then with the final vocal from Dan MacDonald as “Mousetrap”, another longish song at just under seven minutes – literally: one second under! - takes us out with a punchy rocker with a sort of tribal rhythm and very much a look back to Abacab in parts.

TRACK LISTING

1. A Different Machine
2. The Other Room
3. Amber Waves
4. TFAY
5. Boxless
6. Endless Pt 1
7. Endless Pt 2
8. Mousetrap

Yeah, it's decent but I don't find myself rushing to hear the rest of their material, which I have. This might take a few more listens to get properly into; there are certainly some nice ideas there, but whether they're executed (hah) as well as they could be I'm not so sure. I'm going to reserve judgement for the time being. Might come back to this.
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Old 12-30-2020, 10:10 AM   #56 (permalink)
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Originally Posted in The Playlist of Life, January 12 2013

Right about now I feel might be a good time to look into another

and who doesn't know this one?

There are many albums that have changed, or impacted strongly on my life and there are others that, while they didn't exactly provide an epiphany for me, turn me onto new music or answer any questions I may have had, remain an integral and important part of the music I listened to while growing up. Some, indeed many of these albums are classics, and that in itself brings up a difficult, but valid point: how do you review a classic album? Most people who know anything about music are going to know the album, probably inside out, and will have their own personal view of it, and what it means to them. How are your words going to interest them, when you're talking about something they have probably been listening to, or at least been aware of, for half their life? How can you criticise, or even wax lyrical about an album everybody knows? What can you add to the discussion about it, what new light can you shed on it, and who is really going to want to hear you drone on about a classic?

The only way, therefore, I could even attempt tackling such an almost sacrosanct album was to write for the kids who have never heard this: the ones growing up now and only finding out about bands like these. This is mostly, and usually, down to age: kids of sixteen, seventeen may have heard of these bands, but have never actually heard their music. It can also be the case that someone is crossing over from one genre to another and may not be that familiar with these legends of rock music, although in the case of some even that seems unlikely. Still, for those that are only now flowering into the first years of their musical knowledge, for those starting out on the long and exciting journey of discovery into rock, metal, progressive rock and space rock, I present this review of one of the defining albums not only of the band's career, but of rock music in general.

And yes, in that way, like it did to us all, it changed my life.

The Dark Side of the Moon --- Pink Floyd --- 1973 (Harvest/Capitol)


There's been far too much written about the place DSotM occupies - deservedly - in the annals of rock music history, and people have said it far better than I ever could. The fact that this was Pink Floyd's first number one album, that it took them from relative commercial obscurity and thrust them into the mainsteam limelight, that it spent over seven hundred weeks in the charts and has sold over fifty million copies worldwide, has all been well documented. The groundbreaking innovations in the music - the use of tape loops, voices, echo and reverb, analogue synthesisers and more - the way it changed music - and Pink Floyd forever, and the fact that it was at least in part dedicated to or written about Syd Barret, original founder and vocalist who was suffering through some mental problems that has caused him to quit the band he had started. All of this has been written before, and there's no point in me rehashing old material, trying to outdo what rock and music writers have been doing for over forty years now. Similarly, there's no point in me copying-and-pasting a Wiki article, although I did consult such for some background information.

The only way I can approach this is by reviewing it as if for someone who has not heard it before, and in that vein, much of what I say in this review will seem trite, maybe even slightly offensive to those of us who know and revere the album. But remember, I'm writing this for those who do not know the album, so bear with me. Think of it this way: if you wanted to read a review of a classic jazz, blues or even electronica album and could find nothing but essays about how great it was, and how everyone knew it, would you be annoyed? I know I would. It should not be taken for granted that one hundred percent of the population of planet Earth have heard Dark Side of the Moon - I'm sure it's closer to only ninety-five percent (!) - and for those who have not (yet) experienced this amazing album, I offer my description of a timeless masterpiece.

The first thing that always hits me about this album is its sense of space. Everything seems deep, from the lyrics to the music, and everything seems to constantly be in the process of expanding. You hear this from the beginning, as "Speak to Me" kicks off this opus of progressive rock. A low hum is joined and superceded by a thumping sound, a steady, rhythmic beat like that of a heart. As it continues on, snatches of what will be other tracks on the album - "Money", "Time", "Brain Damage" etc - spool through, and a voice speaks of being mad, while in the background but getting louder a maniacal laugh rises beside the vocalise (vocals without words or phrases) of Clare Torry, the music climbing in pitch with her until on her scream we pound into the first track proper, "Breathe", with David Gilmour's incredibly full-sounding guitar taking the lead, he then also taking the vocal as the song begins.

Nick Mason's steady drumming and Rick Wright's keyboards form over a minute of instrumental intro before Gilmour begins singing and the song is the first part of a life cycle really, laying out the fact that we need to live our lives while we can, as it's over far too soon. Lyrics like "Run, rabbit run/ Dig that hole/ Forget the sun/ And when at last the work is done/ Don't sit down/ It's time to dig another one" show us how petty and futile so much of the concerns we surround ourselves with, worry over and obsess over are. As Gilmour says near the end: "Balanced on the biggest wave/ You race towards a early grave". The song is slow, almost a ballad, played on lazy guitar by Gilmour sometimes in a manner comparable to slide, with a laconic vocal that is double or multi-tracked and seems to echo as he sings, and an almost funereal sound to it. Like the rest of the album - as it was originally recorded, two sides of one record - each song flows seamlessly into the next, and so we slide on into "On the run", where Wright's bouncing, swirling, almost panicky synthesiser runs form the basis of this instrumental, with running feet, heavy breathing and sounds of airports and so forth creating the sensation of someone in a mad hurry, racing to some appointment or other, and harking back to the rabbit in the previous song, endlessly rushing and toiling but to what end? Racing towards an early grave, indeed.

Voices drift about in the ether as the piece continues, announcers' voices, people laughing, shouting, and the whole tempo of the thing is fast, manic, almost a "Flight of the bumble-bee" for the twentieth century. It ends on a big hard heavy powerful guitar riff and crashes into the sound of many clocks, which suddenly all go off, chiming, ringing, pealing as "Time" opens, Gilmour's hard echoey guitar pounding in and almost meshing with the sound of ticking, pendulums and metronomes, Wright's piano tinkling in and Mason and Waters setting up the backing rhythm, another sense of doom about the music. One of only two songs on the album to feature double vocals, Wright takes the mike beside Gilmour to give us another song about wasting your life. Time is the eternal enemy, and our lives must be spent with purpose and direction or else "One day you find/ Ten years have got behind you" and it's already too late. Great guitar solo from Gilmour and powerful, effective backing vocals which will go on to define and be a major part of what will become the Floyd sound in the years to come.

By the time the protagonist in the song has decided he has to do something, that his life is slipping away, it's a race against death. "So you run, you run/ To catch up with the sun/ But it's sinking/ Racing around/ To come up behind you again." Sobering words, and a sort of funk feel to the song, with a certain gravity and pathos, which then runs into "Breathe (reprise)", a short coda to the song before it flows into the fully instrumental "The Great Gig in the Sky", with vocals by Clare Torry which are, well, you just have to hear them to appreciate how different they are, and why this piece can still be called an instrumental even with vocals, of a sort. Almost sacramental slide guitar from Gilmour, and lush piano from Rick Wright, but it's the vocals from Torry that really make the song stand out, backed by heavy church-style organ from Wright and punchy percussion from Mason.

As such, that's the end of the first part, and was the first side of the original vinyl album, and so the music actually stops rather than segueing into the next track. This then is "Money", which opens on the sound of cash registers, coins, paper tearing and then a bassline from Roger Waters that was to become famous and instantly identifiable, joined by Mason's percussion as the song takes on a sort of marching rhythm, a twelve-bar blues kind of feel and Gilmour's guitar joins the fray, as does his voice again, extolling the virtues and vices of living just to make money. Probably unintentionally ironic, as "Time" was to become one of their most successful and thereby lucrative songs, one of the two massive hit singles to come off this album. Great smoky sax solo from Dick Parry adds to the almost jazzy sense of the song, and it fades out on the recordings of people talking about various things, until it recedes into the background and the sorrowful ballad "Us and Them" comes in on droning organ.

With a clever time-delayed echo on the vocal, so that instead of just "Us and them" you hear Us, Us, Us, Us, Us ... and them, them, them, them..." - mightily effective - it's a lament on how the have-nots are walked on by the haves, how there's no room in the world for mercy or pity or sharing the wealth, or looking after those who are worse off than us. It's Gilmour's last performance on vocals on the album, and again he's joined by Rick Wright, the song one of the most moving on the record. It also features a simply beautiful sax break from Parry which really just makes the song. The imagery in the song is striking: "Forward! he cried, from the rear/ And the front rank died/ The general sat/ And the lines on the map/ Moved from side to side" and "Listen son/ Said the man with the gun/ There's room for you inside." A lot of anti-war, anti-military rhetoric, but quite simple in itself, with a very sad ending as (it would seem to me anyway) where a war veteran dies because no-one will buy him the meal he needs to stay alive: "Out of the way! / It's a busy day/ I've got things on my mind/ For the want of the price/ Of tea and a slice/ The old man died." More powerful backing vocals and some lovely piano work from Rick Wright and a rather abrupt end, which the first time I heard this took me by surprise, because you just don't expect it.

This leaves us with three tracks to go. "Any Colour You Like" (probably referencing the old Henry Ford mantra, "any colour you like as long as it's black") is the final instrumental, and if this album had, in some alternate universe, a weak track, this is what I would select as it. Compared to the giants that have gone before, and the two to come, it doesn't for me stand up as well. But it's still well above anything else that was coming out at that time, although it's really just a marker to take us to "Brain Damage", where we hear for the first time on the album the vocals of a man who would come to dominate not only vocals, but the whole band, and who would cause tensions within Floyd leading ultimately to his eventual departure.

Roger Waters does a great job of sounding like a madman himself, as he sings "The lunatic is in the hall/ The lunatics are in my hall/ The paper holds their folded faces to the floor/ And everyday the paperboy brings more." More than any other song on the album, this is thought to be written about Syd Barret, and his struggle with dementia. It's quite a laidback little piece initially, taken in on Gilmour's soft, chiming guitar and Waters' steady bass, that is until the chorus when a big sweeping synth, thumping drums and a squealing guitar mesh with those soon-to-be-famous backing vocals - almost a choir really - to take the song to almost transcendental levels. The song also contains the album title, so is essentially the title track, and the climax, the point everything has been leading to. In an almost expected move now, there are grinning, laughing voices running through the song too.

"Eclipse", the closer, is essentially the same melody but changed a little, with a repeating lyric that lists all the things, people, events, dreams and nightmares we may and probably will encounter during our oh-too-short lives. Brought in on Mason's thumping drum and with a swirling, almost carnival organ from Wright, it's again Waters who takes the album out in complete triumph, the choir/voices setting up a spirited, gospel-like finale, and as the music fades out on the final lyric "Everything under the sun is tune/ But the sun is eclipsed by the moon" we hear the sound of someone saying "There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact, it's all dark", and just to bring everything full circle, the heartbeat returns, then stops.

TRACK LISTING

1. Speak to Me
2. Breathe
3. On the Run
4. Time
5. The Great Gig in the Sky
6. Money
7. Us and Them
8. Any Colour You Like
9. Brain Damage
10. Eclipse

So, what makes a classic album, then? Is it just that X number of people have to listen to it? Is it that it has to shift Y number of units, or have Z number of singles? Well, no I don't think so, because many albums I would consider far, far from classics can fulfill any or all of these statistics. Is it that it becomes so well known that almost everyone has at least heard of it? Again I think no, because again there are albums I could name that just about anyone would know, but they are not considered classics.

Personally, I think a classic album is not made, it is created, which is to say, it's not after the album has been released and bought, listened to and rated and raved over that it is recognised as a classic. I think it happens in the studio. When the artiste recording it has recorded a classic, they will instantly know it. Musicians know when they've created something special, and I think Pink Floyd knew this about Dark Side of the Moon. When Roger Waters played the rough tapes to his wife, she burst into tears at the end, and he knew then they had something special.

In essence, for want of a better phrase, classic albums aren't made, they're born. Right from the off, you know they're going to be a classic from the moment you first hear them; and every time after that, you remember how you first realised this album was going to be remembered, praised, played everywhere and that it would take its place in music history, forever.

That, in my considered opinion, is what a classic album is.
That's what Pink Floyd's "The dark side of the moon" is.
You hear it once, and nothing, nothing is ever the same.
Nor should it be.
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Old 12-31-2020, 04:11 AM   #57 (permalink)
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Nearly through the five decades first time round, and here we are in the twenty-first century.


Album title: Returning Jesus
Artist: No-Man
Nationality: English
Year: 2001
Chronology: 4
The Trollheart Factor: 3

Track Listing: Only Rain/No Defence/Close Your Eyes/Carolina Skeletons/Outside the Machine/Returning Jesus/Slow it All Down/Lighthouse/All That You Are

Comments: While I may not be totally on board yet with Porcupine Tree’s discography, I always have time for Steven Wilson. Some of his projects aren’t so great (Storm Corrosion) but more often than not they hit the mark, occasionally exceed it. Throw in one of my favourite vocalists and you have a recipe for, if not guaranteed success, then at least expected. I’ve loved Tim Bowness’s work on Memories of Machines, and his own solo stuff as well as NoSound and White Willow, and I find he and Wilson work well together. The thing about a No-Man album is you usually can’t predict what you’re going to get.

Here, we have a beautiful aching cello-driven ballad opening the album, with Bowness’s unique soulful vocal seeming to almost bleed emotion all over “Only Rain” - oh, okay: sounded very like cello but none is shown in the credits, so I guess it must be synthesised - then there’s brass, hard electric guitar, the bulk of the seven-minutes plus the song runs for instrumental, quite ambient, while “No Defence” sounds like Marillion’s “Born to Run” from Radiation with a lovely lazy slow blues rhythm and what sounds like slide guitar and some truly awesome smoky sax. Tribal drums then open “Close Your Eyes”, soft and sort of breathy in their way, deep organ almost in the background, while it’s piano that drives “Carolina Skeletons”, with an almost folky/country feel to it, and “Outside the Machine” has indeed a kind of metallic, electronic, mechanical sound.

Still, you’ll never or at least hardly ever hear No-Man rocking out; Bowness is a gentle, relaxed singer and I don’t think I’ve ever heard him break a sweat, so to speak. Ah. Little confused now. The track should be the title one, and is shown as such, but the lyric is “Slow it All Down”, which is supposed to be the next track. Could they have become somehow transposed? This one at any rate lives up to its name, a sound like someone tapping on metal pipes the only real percussion I can hear, soft guitar and synth and the soothing sound of Bowness’s voice, and, well if that is “Returning Jesus” I can’t say, as it’s an instrumental on mostly brass, but I guess given the lyric of the other one they must somehow have got it arse-about-face on Spotify. Two very good songs nevertheless.

That brings us to “Lighthouse”, and at this point I’m not at all surprised to find it’s another slow track, strong organ underpinning the tune, with a very seventies Genesis feel, and then a kind of reprise of the melody from “No Defence” as we end on “All That You Are”, some powerful warbling keyboard and a really nice guitar motif, passionate vocal from Tim, a fitting closer.

Track(s) I liked: Oh, everything

Track(s) I didn't like: Nary a one

One standout: Hard to pick one out

One rotten apple: Nah

Overall impression: I tend to view No-Man more as a Bowness than a Wilson vehicle, but as I said they work well together, and this is just another example of two men at the top of their respective games teaming up to record something that is more than the sum of their parts. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9.8/10

Future Plan: Must hear their other albums and I have a hankering to hear more of Tim Bowness’s solo material.
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Old 12-31-2020, 03:01 PM   #58 (permalink)
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Let's get this finished before the year ends, as we take our final look at our



Album title: Passion
Artist: Pendragon
Nationality: English
Year: 2011
Chronology: 9


Track Listing: Passion/Empathy/Feeding Frenzy/This Green and Pleasant Land/It’s Just a Matter of Not Getting Caught/Skara Brae/Your Black Heart

Comments: One of my favourite albums, Pendragon’s ninth sees them embracing samples, electronic music and even (to a very small and even laughable degree) rapping as they take on the twenty-first century, striving to remain relevant and up their game. And up it they do. Only seven tracks, but not a bad one among them. Almost. The opening two I choose to take as almost the same track as they kind of feed into each other, and you know things are going to be different when Nick growls “I… drop my BALLS!” It’s a continuation of the heavier approach used on Pure, with a lot more guitar - though there’s plenty of room for Maestro Nolan as well of course, and the title track sets the tone with an electronic drumbeat then snarling guitar before it all takes off on the aforementioned line. There are little introspective passages of guitar that almost fool you into thinking it’s the Pendragon of old, before the new sound kicks these aside and goes for your throat.

Passion there certainly is in this opener, and it staggers on almost broken legs with a wounded, groaning vocal into “Empathy”, which immediately ups the ante with a snarling vocal from Nick as he paints a picture of the unfairness and cruelty of the world, the music loud and aggressive. The chorus is the title of the previous - “Passion! Gimme some empathy!” - which is another reason I tend to link the two. Again we get those soft little sections before it all explodes again. Here, too, we have the, um, attempt at a rap. To be fair, it works more than it doesn’t, but I’m sure any hip-hop fan would be grinning embarrassedly to themselves to think this is taken to be a rap, when it’s nothing of the sort. Let’s be honest: prog rockers don’t rap well. But you have to give them points for trying to appeal to a base outside of their own. The orchestral synth ending is to die for, step forward and take a bow, Clive Nolan.

After all that it’s back to basic rock for the gritty “Feeding Frenzy”, demonstrating clearly the anger felt by Nick at the way the world is; this will become a running theme, not only through this album but the next one too, and is a follow-on from both the last album and the one previous to that. A lot of hard guitar in this one. And I mean a lot. I love the line “This is your revenge, to the power of ****!” But if you want to hear a real rant against the UK and indeed the world, try “This Green and Pleasant Land”, all thirteen minutes of it. Listen to lyrics like “It’s not legal to say what I think anymore cos I don’t believe in Sharia law.” Yeah. A real get-the-fuck-up-and-stop-whining-about-your-life song, against a backdrop of some truly beautiful music, soft mournful guitar giving way to faster, angrier riffs as Nick wails “Take only what you need and be on your way,” advice we’d all be so much better off if we took, though nobody does, including me. We all want more, more, MORE!

I will say I hate the ending. After going through so many changes, powerful instrumental passages, passion (sorry)-drenched lyrics, it basically fades and breaks up to the sound of sheep and er, yodelling? Very weird, and a big disappointment in a song which should have had a much more coherent and dramatic ending. Doesn’t ruin it, but it is a pity. There’s a lot of menace in “It’s Just a Matter of Not Getting Caught”, as well as a fairy-style strings opening (maybe a harp? Hard to say) and a whistling synth that reminds me of that part from “The Shadow” on The Masquerade Overture. Very heavy guitar and some odd effects, then “Skara Brae” kicks everything in the teeth again, rocking out like mad, Nick’s vocals almost metal at times, with a great hook in the chorus.

The album ends then with the expected ballad, and “Your Black Heart” does not disappoint as a closer, nor as a ballad. Beautiful vocal harmonies, crying guitar, sumptuous rolling piano, this has it all, a truly lush and awe-inspiring song that hides a dark, bitter revenge motif in the lyric. The final guitar solo outro reminds me very much of the closer from Believe, “The Edge of the World”, and I’d venture to suggest this may be one of the best ballads Pendragon have written to date.



Track(s) I liked: Everything

Track(s) I didn't like: Nothing

One standout: It’s between “This Green and Pleasant Land”, “Your Black Heart” and “Empathy”

One rotten apple: Nein

Overall impression: An album that shows Pendragon, if you will, growing up. One of the most politically-charged of their albums in terms of lyrics, and the experiments they engage in to remain relevant to the music scene and try to perhaps stand out from the slew of prog rock bands still trying to keep their fanbase together mostly work.

Rating: 9.8/10
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Old 01-01-2021, 10:25 AM   #59 (permalink)
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Sometimes, logic can just go and take a flying leap, and reason can follow it. Which is my way of saying that here, as this is my thread, I’m going to feature albums that really can’t be considered prog in any proper way, but which I, for various reasons, consider worthy of being included.

So you can say, and I will admit, that the albums you'll see appearing here over the next while can be described as really

Feel free to disagree with my choices, and also feel free to follow logic and reason if you like.


Album title: Mike and the Mechanics
Artist: Mike and the Mechanics
Nationality: English
Year: 1985
Chronology: 1
The Trollheart Factor: 3

Track Listing: Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)/All I Need is a Miracle/Par Avion/Hanging by a Thread/I Get the Feeling/Take the Reins/You Are the One/A Call to Arms/Taken In

Comments: Is the main thrust of my argument here the fact that this is an album by an ex-member of one of the true titans of prog? Well, yes and no. I wouldn’t even think of featuring a Phil Collins album here - there’s just no way to justify that, no way at all. His music is so removed from what he did with Genesis that it’s almost like a totally different person recording. And as for Gabriel? Well, early efforts could - and might - be considered, but after So I think we all knew he was heading in an entirely different direction. As indeed did Mike Rutherford, who, after some fairly bleh solo albums under his own name, hooked up with Paul Carrack and Paul Young and formed Mike and the Mechanics.

Now, nobody could say that later hits such as “Over My Shoulder” or “Don’t Know What Came Over Me” could be considered prog, and truth to tell, some of this album fails to qualify too. But so much of it succeeds, or comes as close as makes no difference, that I think it deserves a chance.

Listen to the opening “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” and tell me that’s not prog, with its heavy humming synth, then its warbly keyboards and dark, ominous lyric. Well, maybe you don’t think it is, but for me this track on its own has more prog about it than some of Genesis’s later albums, and I could in fact see it sitting comfortably on their last (to date), Calling All Stations. Interestingly co-authored by pop supremo B.A. Robertson, it’s six minutes long - no prog epic, certainly, but still quite a long track on any other album, and especially to start it. I will admit, there’s a major downturn then for the next track, but then, after “Silent Running” our Mike would have had to have come up with something pretty special, and he, well, did not. Even at that, the rising squealing keys and ticking percussion that introduce the song do have proggy overtones, though once the song gets going it’s clearly a pop/rock love type song, and relatively throwaway. Probably why it was released as a single (though the opener was too) and did so well in the USA.

But if you consider “All I Need is a Miracle” a blip, it’s soon overlooked as the quiet, almost cushioned drums of “Par Avion” whisper in, and we have the first ballad on the album. Of course every genre - mostly - has its ballads, and that fact alone doesn’t mark it out as being prog, and in fairness it probably isn’t, but then I could again hear this on a later Genesis album, maybe We Can’t Dance or even earlier, maybe Duke? A new voice to take the mike (sorry) here, one John Kirby, one of two tracks he guests on. Who is he? No idea. The quiet restraint of this song is upended entirely by the bombast and thumping attack of the obviously very angry “Hanging by a Thread”, with almost metal-style guitars and drums that just seem to want to punch your head in, Paul Young spitting out the lyric like an accusation. I like the fact that Mike and the Mechanics shuffle the vocalists around here, Young singing some tracks, Carrack others. Keeps it interesting. And Kirby too.

It’s also interesting that this is not altogether a guitar-heavy album; Rutherford made his name of course in Genesis as guitarist/bassist, though he does play keys too. Though not here. Then again, this isn’t strictly speaking a Mike Rutherford solo album, more a band he got together to play music with, but it’s nice to see he can put the axe down from time to time. Not so of course on the current track, which is very rifftastic, with orchestral hits from the synth and has quite the Genesis melody to it, very circa Duke. Almost calypso-style then for “I Get the Feeling”, which makes me shudder a little, bringing back memories of Phil Collins on No Jacket Required as the brass takes over, handclap beats and well, it’s just a pretty weak song, probably one of the weakest on the album, with Carrack back on vocals. Meh.

It’s pretty much top notch from there on in though, as we hit the manic “Take the Reins”, which ramps everything back up on a rock footing, the beat skittering along, the vocal reminding me of a steam locomotive puffing along, a certain air of Huey Lewis about it, then another standout is the gorgeous ballad “You Are the One”, where Kirby makes his second and indeed last contribution to the album. Beautiful piano from Adrian Lee, soft lush synth, just beautiful. And into yet another standout, the very prog-influenced “A Call to Arms”. This was in fact part of a song Rutherford wrote for inclusion on the Genesis album, but nobody except him liked it, so he rewrote it for his own album.

I consider it a companion piece to “Silent Running”, linked musically as well as thematically; if any two tracks on this album can be considered prog-worthy, it’s those two, and the lyrics mesh too. If “Silent Running” is the warning about an impending (nuclear?) disaster - “Take the children and yourself and hide out in the cellar/ By now the fighting will be close at hand” - then “A Call to Arms” seems to me to be either the end of that conflict, or the fight back. Or maybe not. Anyway I link them in my mind and they definitely bookend the album and for my money give it its prog credentials. The sweeping percussion and synth that usher in the song, the pained, aching vocals of both Carrack and Young, the insistent thump of the drums all through it, the dark, ominous atmosphere that permeates the music, all make this a real treat to listen to.

Had the album ended there, I would have been happy, but there’s a pretty throwaway little pop song at the end, and I could have done without “Taken In” very nicely thank you. It doesn’t ruin the album, not as such, but it certainly blunts the effect of the far superior track that preceded it.


Track(s) I liked: Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)/Par Avion/Hanging by a Thread/You Are the One/A Call to Arms

Track(s) I didn't like: I Get the Feeling/Taken In

One standout: A Call to Arms

One rotten apple: I Get the Feeling

Overall impression: Different from his work in Genesis, yes, but not that different. I had great hopes for Rutherford’s new band, but they quickly went down the easy pop route and discarded any rock/prog rock roots so I lost interest.

Rating: 9.5/10

Future Plan: I listened to and enjoyed the second and third album, but after that I just lost interest. To be honest, the third one, Word of Mouth had some decent tracks but was not a patch on the first two. Then I heard “Over My Shoulder” and I was done with these guys.
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Old 01-02-2021, 10:58 AM   #60 (permalink)
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Originally Posted in Racing the Clouds Home, Dec 13 2016


There are some prog bands I just don't get, and many I should but can't see the appeal in. This bothers me slightly, especially when the band concerned is a major one. And yet, there are huge gaps in my prog appreciation where I just simply don't like or can't get into a particular artist. Here, I'm going to attempt to address this. The plan is to pick an artist and listen to up to three of their albums, preferably those considered their best. If, after this, I have still not got into them I'm going to assume that for now at any rate I probably won't manage it, and will temporarily accept that and stop trying. I may give it another shot at some later date on my own terms, but for this section that artist will be considered a failure for me.

Artists I intend to cover (more will probably be added later) are: Spock's Beard, IQ, Pallas, Yes, Riverside, Dream Theater, Gentle Giant, ELP, Gandalf's Fist, Enchant, Porcupine Tree, Pain of Salvation and Saga.

As I listen to each album I will rate it and assign it a Result, determining whether it leaves me in the same mind as I was before I listened to it, ie no change,

or has had a positive effect on me,

or even made me more reluctant to listen to more of their material.

At the end, I'll know whether I've got into the artiste or still feel meh about them, or even if this experiment has turned me even further from them.

I'll start off with a brief intro to the artist and what I know of them and have heard from them, and then dive into the review.

If you have any suggestions, feel free.

All right then, let's get this under way.


A band a lot of people give credit to, and who apparently are one of those who often straddle the prog rock/metal divide, I have only heard one full album from Riverside, and that was, at the time, their latest, 2011's Shrine of New Generation Slaves, or SONGS. I seem to remember being reasonably impressed with most of it, but as usual when I listen to this band there's always something niggling me about them, like I can't quite enjoy them or say they're really great; it's like there's something missing? Never quite sure what it is. I've only heard tracks on shuffle playlists other than the album referred to above, but of those, well, some I've really liked, some I have not. A lot of the time it seems to rest on the length of the song, and Riverside tend to go with longer songs, evens suites, most of the time, or at least, most of the times I've heard them. This should not be a problem for a prog head, but I've mentioned the problem previously: a good long track is fine, a joy to listen to, while a bad long track can be torture. Sometimes Riverside's music has given me the feeling of the latter. Well, not quite, but I do recall skipping on after maybe three or four minutes of what I considered uninspiring music.

Current status:

Quick bio: Riverside were formed in 2001 in Warsaw, Poland by four friends, and are generally led by bassist and vocalist Mariusz Duda. Over their career so far they have released seven albums, and were hit in February with the sad news of the sudden death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński.

Albums I have heard: Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013)

As it appears the first three albums comprise a trilogy, it makes sense I guess to make them the three I listen to, though I wanted kind of to stay away from debuts and also from consecutive albums. But this seems to be the best way to go with this band, so that's what I'll do. Therefore the first one up is


Out Of Myself (2003)

First in the “Reality Dream” trilogy, there's only one really long track on it, the opener, and of the remaining eight there are two instrumentals, though both are longer than you would expect the average instrumental to be. The radio being tuned at the beginning of “The Same River” harks back to the opening of Marillion's “Forgotten Sons”, though I'm sure they weren't the first to do that, then it's a nice powerful dramatic almost Floydesque opening, actually kind of reminds me of Twin Peaks, oddly. A crooning, chanting voice but as yet no vocals as we hit the second minute, but then there are still ten left. Building up nicely on synth and guitar and Duda's bass bringing it all together. Definitely the sense of something about to happen. Four minutes in and still no recognisable vocal. Must say I'm enjoying it though. I can hear the metal influences leaking through now as the guitar gets harder and sharper, running into a soaraway solo that takes us into the fifth minute.

Seven minutes in and we finally get a vocal, though to be honest had it gone on like that to the end I wouldn't really have minded. Maruisz has a nice voice; I've heard it before of course. There's that little twang in it that denotes he's other than English. Settles down in the last two minutes into a kind of acoustic ballad style, which is nice after the intensity of the first ten. Oh, and now we get a super guitar solo. Great opening track. Twelve minutes just flew by. Colour me impressed. And hopeful. The title track is much more immediate and in your face, though it's less than four minutes long. Driven on a punchy guitar with a pretty manic vocal. Like this too. Very metal, as Vivian would say. “I Believe” is more laid back, relaxing with nice gentle guitar but at times quite an intense vocal from Mariusz. Could probably do without the sounds of the crowd at the beginning, and they come back in around halfway through the track too. This is another short song, relatively: just over four minutes. Nice melody.

The first instrumental, however, is over six and I'm always a little doubtful of instrumentals that long. We'll see. The ticking clock at the start is less annoying than it could be, and then my god they get going with a big heavy keyboard run as the piece hits its stride early. I quite enjoyed that, and again it didn't seem six minutes long. “Loose Heart” is nice, sort of a semi-ballad that puts me in mind at times of Gary Moore, some great guitar work there. Ah. It changes to something of a manic shout-fest near the end, little jarring but it doesn't ruin it for me, while the second instrumental, shorter this time, has more sound effects (phone dial then wrong number sound) but runs on a really smooth guitar line and has a lot of almost angry power. Yeah, I like this too. And we're more than halfway through the album. Going well so far.

“In Two Minds” has a lovely acoustic line before the organ comes in to shoulder the melody, and reminds me of the best of post-Fish Marillion, and things stay fairly low-key for “The curtain falls”, or so they? Seems like it's taking a left turn here on the back of Duda's almost hypnotic bass and some “Run like Hell” guitar riffs. Nice. Gets really driving and powerful near the end. Excellent. No problems with this. The album ends on “OK”, which as a descriptor of this debut is well below the mark. It's a really nice, almost trip-hop song that at times even reminds me of Norwegian popsters a-ha. I feel I may have heard this as one of the songs on one of those shuffles I was talking about. Nice addition of trumpet here, really gives the song something different. Great closer to a great album.

Track Listing

1. The same river
2. Out of myself
3. I believe
4. Reality dream
5. Loose heart
6. Reality dream II
7. In two minds
8. The curtain falls
9. OK

Well if I had any reservations about Riverside this album has gone a long way towards putting those fears to rest. A very accomplished debut – even a triumph, I might say, and it's left me eager to hear more.

Result for this album:

Total Result so far:
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