SCIENCENV – THE QUEST FOR PRESTER JOHN VOLUME TWO – INDEPENDENT

ScienceNV was formed in 2005 by Larry Jay Davis (guitar and bass guitar), David Graves (keyboards), Jim Henriques (guitar and keyboards) and Rich Kallet (drums). They released their debut album, ‘Really Loud Noises’ in 2008, following it up with ‘Pacific Circumstances’ in 2010 and ‘The Last Album Before the End of Time’ in 2013. Whereas those albums were instrumental, this time they have expanded the band and expanded the concept, so instead of releasing one album every two or three years, they have now released two albums in 2018 which tell the story of Prester John. Apparently, Prester John was a ruler of legend in the ancient world. His kingdom was rumored to be in various parts of the world ranging from India to Central Asia and Ethiopia depending on the century. A letter purporting to be from Prester John circulated around Europe late in the twelfth century and at least one expedition was sent to bring greetings to the ruler and his kingdom.

I must confess to being new to both the story and the band, and although this is an independent release it would have been nice if they could have stretched to a booklet explaining what was happening, instead of just an insert. What I do know is that after a short introduction “Fanfare” we are treated to the longest song on the album, the thirty-two-minute “Eloise’s Tale”. The total length of the album is 55 minutes, with eight songs, so it shows just how dominant this is. The quartet has added a number of additional singers and musicians to this album, and in some ways, it is hard at times to understand exactly what is going on in terms of musical progression. They definitely have more in common with bands from the Seventies than today, with Gryphon probably being the top pick, but there is also a great deal of jazz, as well as more medieval themes and styles. It is a complex, layered, piece of work, often with an acoustic guitar at the base.

There are sometimes when the vocals appear a little sharp, but that must be by design as generally, the singing is very good indeed. The more I listened to this album, the more I felt quite enthralled by it, as it is just so very different to everything else I listen to. I could imagine a young Robert Wyatt being involved with this, with gentle orchestrations also bringing an additional edge. There are times when it doesn’t work quite as well as it could, but overall this is an intriguing and interesting album.

7/10

Kev Rowland

SCIENCENV – THE QUEST FOR PRESTER JOHN VOLUME ONE – INDEPENDENT

ScienceNV was formed in 2005 by Larry Jay Davis (guitar and bass guitar), David Graves (keyboards), Jim Henriques (guitar and keyboards) and Rich Kallet (drums). They released their debut album, ‘Really Loud Noises’ in 2008, following it up with ‘Pacific Circumstances’ in 2010 and ‘The Last Album Before the End of Time’ in 2013. Whereas those albums were instrumental, this time they have expanded the band and expanded the concept, so instead of releasing one album every two or three years, they have now released two albums in 2018 which tell the story of Prester John. Apparently, Prester John was a ruler of legend in the ancient world. His kingdom was rumored to be in various parts of the world ranging from India to Central Asia and Ethiopia depending on the century. A letter purporting to be from Prester John circulated around Europe late in the twelfth century and at least one expedition was sent to bring greetings to the ruler and his kingdom.

I must confess to being new to both the story and the band, and although this is an independent release it would have been nice if they could have stretched to a booklet explaining what was happening, instead of just an insert. What I do know is that after a short introduction “Fanfare” we are treated to the longest song on the album, the thirty-two-minute “Eloise’s Tale”. The total length of the album is 55 minutes, with eight songs, so it shows just how dominant this is. The quartet has added a number of additional singers and musicians to this album, and in some ways, it is hard at times to understand exactly what is going on in terms of musical progression. They definitely have more in common with bands from the Seventies than today, with Gryphon probably being a top pick, but there is also a great deal of jazz, as well as more medieval themes and styles. It is a complex, layered, piece of work, often with an acoustic guitar at the base.

There are sometimes when the vocals appear a little sharp, but that must be by design as generally, the singing is very good indeed. The more I listened to this album, the more I felt quite enthralled by it, as it is just so very different to everything else I listen to. I could imagine a young Robert Wyatt being involved with this, with gentle orchestrations also bringing an additional edge. There are times when it doesn’t work quite as well as it could, but overall this is an intriguing and interesting album.

7/10

Kev Rowland

 

3RDEGREE – ONES & ZEROS: VOLUME 0 – INDEPENDENT

Robert pointed out to me that I would be one of the few reviewers coming to the second album immediately after hearing the first, so what would I think of the two albums working together? The albums are designed to be viewed as a pair, from the artwork and layout through the music and ideas. While I smiled when I noticed that this was called ‘Volume 0’, part of me would rather it had been called ‘Volume 10’, which of course is 2 expressed in binary code, but that really is nit-picking (yes, I’m a geek – been working in I.T. for more than 20 years, but it’s not my fault).

Lyrically it is the perfect follow-on from the debut, so much so that it feels that it could become part of a permanent loop, so much so that the question becomes “which came first, 1 or 0?”. Musically it does feel very much of the second half of a piece of work, possibly slightly more acoustic? The musical themes and styling of the debut are carried into this, with the same influences very much in play, so much so that one actually finds it quite hard to realize that there was a break between the recording of the two albums as opposed to being recorded at the same time. And if anyone doubts the City Boy analogy just listen to George at 5:20 on “The Future Doesn’t Need You” and see what I mean.

It is also definitely worth mentioning that all the lyrics are in the pack, apart from one, and the only way to get that is to go the Valhalla Biotech site. Once there the lyrics can be seen, but also there are various links, for example, “5 Things That You Need To Know” (which takes you to a blog about becoming more involved in the local music scene) or “Become A Shareholder” (which of course takes you to their store). As I write this, I see that the album is #2 on the PA charts (interestingly I gave maximum scores to #1, #3 and #5 – haven’t heard #4). It is a totally different album to the latest by Roz Vitalis, the current incumbent of the top slot: that is very much a progressive album, from the RIO scene, while this is progressive pop that is fully Crossover. In terms of sheer pleasure and repeated playing this wins hands down, as it just makes me smile each and every time I play it. And isn’t that something that music should be about? The two ‘Ones & Zeros’ albums perfect complement each other, and all that can be done is buy both and listen to them back to back.

http://www.3rdegreeonline.com/3RDegree/Landing.html

9/10

Kev Rowland

3RDEGREE – ONES & ZEROS: VOLUME 1 -10T RECORDS

When I first came across 3rDegree some years ago, I said that they reminded me a great deal of the long-lost City Boy, and it was interesting to hear how much of an impact they had had on the band. However, Robert James Pashman (bass, keyboards, backing vocals – and who is also responsible for getting me drinking Trappist-style beers) later informed me that none of them had heard of the band, and it was only after reading reviews mentioning them as an influence that they sought them out! Having given maximum marks to their previous three albums (I’ve only noticed that although I have their 1993 debut I’ve never reviewed it, must amend that at some point), I was looking forward to hearing this 2015 release. But, it arrived while I was working on my book, so ended up in the never-ending backlog. However, with the arrival in 2018 of the second part of the concept, it allows me to review them back to back (and thankfully the guys have been very understanding).

What we have here is a science fiction concept album, set in the fairly near future, where it is possible to live forever or be enhanced in some ways. It is the mix between the human and the machine, the analog and the digital, that makes the story what it is. Although all the lyrics are contained in the digipak, it is easy to understand the storyline without them due to the wonderfully clear vocals of singer George Dobbs, and the fact that they allow the story to tell itself. No need for complex analogies, let’s get to it: my only complaint is that I found it quite distracting while driving, as I would rather listen to what was going on instead of paying attention to the road. We may not have many drivers down here, but our roads aren’t exactly straight and wide.

Musically we are firmly back in the realms of City Boy, with an additional UK band that may surprise many, 10 CC. It took me ages to work out what the harmonies and key changes reminded me of, and then I realized it was like listening to parts of ‘Deceptive Bends’. Added to this surreal pop/rock/prog mix they have added plenty of Utopia for good measure, and come up with something that is instantly 3rDegree, instantly accessible, and guaranteed to make the listener sit there with a massive smile on their face. The one song I found most interesting was “We Regret To Inform You”, which includes the robotic voice of Valhalla Biotech explaining that there has been a slight issue with the recent procedure on the protagonist’s father. I can’t say any more than that without giving away the plot, but coming from an IT background this song really did appeal to my inner geek, and it works incredibly well. Add to that some beautifully phased and treated rock guitar and it is a total delight.

3rDegree probably isn’t a name that too many people recognize from the progressive scene, but as I write this, this album is rated as being #6 on the charts for 2015 releases on ProgArchives. Looking at what is above it, all I can say is that it is in the wrong position, as it should be #1. Absolutely essential, crossover progressive rock doesn’t get any better than this.
http://www.3rdegreeonline.com/3RDegree/Landing.html

10/10

Kev Rowland

 

THE SLYDE – AWAKENING – INDEPENDENT

Apparently, this Canadian quartet has been around since 2008, but although this is the first I have heard of them, I am sure that this name is soon going to be far more widely known as this is a really enjoyable album. They appear to have released an album back in 2011, but only Nathan Da Silva (vocals, guitar) and Sarah Westbrook (keyboards, samples are still in the band from then, with the line-up now completed by Alberto Campuzano (bass, vocals) and Brendan Soares (drums, vocals). What we have here is a crossover prog/AOR album with hard rock elements, and when the press company states that here is a band that has been heavily influenced by Rush I can see what they mean not only in the vocals but in the approach.

The whole approach is somewhat softer than their fellow Canucks, mellow and more Seventies influenced in many ways, but the bass is played with a pick, giving a harder edge that pushes through the layers. Apparently, they have supported Protest The Hero, which must have been interesting billing as musically the bands are incredibly diverse, but it is quite possible that they are more metallic live, and certainly opener the driving “Awaken” could crunch quite heavily if left to its own devices. I did smile when I noticed that in the press release it states that this album could be of interest to fans of Megadeth, and I guess that’s true if everyone has tastes as diverse as mine, otherwise somehow I think that comment misses the mark. But, overall this is a fun album that certainly made me smile, and I had no problem putting this on repeat, which isn’t something I often do. For fans of Rush, particularly the more mellow AOR crossover stylings. https://www.theslyde.ca

7/10

Kev Rowland

STRYPER – GOD DAMN EVIL – FRONTIERS

I haven’t considered myself religious for many years, but have no issue with those that do, and consequently am as happy to listen to religious albums as I do that portray cannibalism or Satanism. This means that I probably listen to more music with an open mind than many, as I guess that there are quite a few people who would balk at purchasing an album that is described as White Metal. But, Stryper is a band who I used to admire a great deal. I lost track of them over the years, but still, have their first two albums on vinyl (‘The Yellow and Black Attack’ and ‘Soldiers Under Command’), and their live video from Japan from the same period. My sister bought the album that probably broke them, ‘To Hell With The Devil’, but then the world changed in so many ways. The band eventually broke up in the early Nineties, before reforming in 2003, since which they have been consistently playing and releasing new music. Amazingly they still have the same singer/guitarist (Michael Sweet), lead guitarist (Oz Fox) and drummer (Robert Sweet) as they did when the band was originally formed as Roxx Regime some 35 years ago. Ex-Firehouse bassist Perry Richardson joined in 2017, is only the third incumbent, so they have been incredibly stable.

The opening track, “Take It To The Cross” features a guest appearance from Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall, Act Of Defiance) on death growls, which shows just how far they have come from the glam days when I used to follow them! What has always been the saving grace (sorry) of Stryper for me, is that at the heart of it they are all actually good musicians, who write catchy songs with hooks, and they have a singer with a really great voice. Whereas many other bands with a Christian message tend to stay within that scene, Stryper broke out into the mainstream and have sold more than ten million albums, most to non-Christians. All these years on and they are still as polished as ever, while they may not ever win marks for most original music, this is commercial hard rock that contains edge and melody and those all-important vocals. If, like me, you only remember Stryper from the early days then in many ways they are still the band they used to be, although they are definitely now more metallic than the hard rock pop of yore. A great addition to their canon, and well worth hearing.

7/10

Kev Rowland

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