KEN WILEY – CUERNO EXOTICA – KRUGPARK MUSIC

I have only come across one other of Ken’s albums, 2014’s ‘Jazz Horn Redux’ and this is a totally different beast both in terms of personnel and style. Much of this album feels incredibly Latin and Cuban, and Wiley shares the lead voices with Mark Leggett (acoustic guitar) and Dan Higgins (flute), although a special mention must be made of Bernie Dresel (drums) and Luis Conte (percussion) for the incredible feeling they pour into the music. There are very few bands of any style which are led by a French Horn player (Wiley also provides piano), and it does take the ear a little while to realise exactly what is going on. But what makes this album works so well is that Ken realises that often he is better placed to provide a supporting role and lets one of the others take the lead. It is certainly the arrangements and switching between different leads, combined with the superb percussion, which provides the album with a real life and vitality. It is often very bass and woodwind oriented, but the acoustic guitar also has a major part to play within the sound as a whole.

Balanced, sophisticated, this Latin jazz album is inviting, warm and full of exotic delights.  7/10

KARMAMOI – THE DAY IS DONE – SONICBOND

At the time of their last album, 2016’s ‘Silence Between Sounds’, the band had been reduced to a trio with guests, but now they are down to just the duo of Daniele Giovannoni (drums, keyboards and backing vocals) and Alex Massari (guitars and backing vocals) as bassist Alessandro Cefalì is also now listed as a guest and only plays on four songs. Strangely, all vocals are by Sara Rinaldi who also provides the lyrics, but she is not listed as being a member of the band. It is safe to say that I haven’t been the biggest fan of this band in the past, viewing their last two albums as solid and okay but not incredibly interesting, but that is no longer the case as I have found myself playing this a great deal indeed. Interestingly, this a concept album, but not the normal subject matter one may expect. When the tragedy which was the Grenfell Tower fire took place on 14thJune 2017 the writing of the album was already well advanced. 89 people died in the burning of that London skyscraper and among the many stories, we were deeply struck by that of two Syrian boys, Omar and Mohammed, who fled from Syria in the war, finding refuge and a new life in Britain. Mohammed died in the fire and his brother was unable to help him.

 Daniele Giovannioni continues: “This typified my feeling of discomfort with the world. Many of us humans are on the run and living in fear of not being accepted. The two Syrian boys typified this feeling of unease. The terror in the eyes of the survivors of the fire was the same as that of the survivors of a bombing or an attack. Certainly, those who suffer a such a bombing know that it is possible there will be another, while those who are victims of a fires can hope that such a thing will never to be repeated, but the desire to escape is the same for everyone.”

Again, there are plenty of guests involved, most notably Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree) and Geoff Leigh (Steven Wilson, Ex-Wise Heads), but this album works best when it is at its most simple, gentle atmospheric piano combined with ethereal vocals. The production is superb, while the use fretless bass adds additional dynamics. This definitely feels like a band as opposed to a few musicians being thrown together for the occasion. At times incredibly Floydian, others more like Camel, what makes this album work so well is the sense of drama and the way the music moves and flows from one style to another. I wasn’t a fan of Sara’s vocals on the last album, but here she is a perfect fit with the music, and in many ways, this feels to me like a totally different band to what I had reviewed in the past.

There has been major step change in all directions, and the result is an album that is full of passion, thought, hooks and drive which keeps the listener involved engaged. That they can change from simplicity to complexity, quiet solitude to rock band, totally confident in throwing out rock guitar shapes and solos or keeping it tied down, shows just how far they have come in such a short time. Well worth investigating.
8/10

MAGIC MOMENTS AT – TWILIGHT TIME – CREAVOLUTION REBORN – TMR RECORDS

To say I was surprised when this arrived recently was something of an understatement. Although Mick and I have been in contact quite a bit over recent years as he delves back into the Music & Elsewhere back catalogue and his own MMATT, all that has been digital. But here we have a physical CD, with an incredibly informative booklet detailing the recording process for the original ‘Creavolution’, which was released on CD in 1996. Apparently the original sessions were recorded down to three TDK DAT tapes which were discovered to be still playable in late 2017, so they were transferred to PreSonus Studio One V3 professional software. They were then remastered at the same studios where the album was recorded, Brain Dead Studios, by the same producer, Marc Bell. 

I defy anyone to listen to this a couple of times and then not find themselves going around the house singing the chorus to “The Starship Psychotron”, it is just bloody annoyingly catchy. The whole album has a warmth and big studio sound missing in many ways from the original, and all these years down the road it is wonderful to be listening to it again. It is nice to be able to listen to the music without the awareness of all the issues that went with the original release. There were many problems with the initial CD pressing, which was only resolved after Mick went to court, and it was only after this was resolved that they could get it re-pressed by another company and it was released some seven months after it should have been.

To Mick it is more than just a reissue. “For me, this is far more than just a remaster of a 22 year old album, this is catharsis. ‘Creavolution’ may well have been the most successful MMATT album and best-selling M&E release ever, but it was always something of a hollow victory for me, overshadowed as it was, at least in my mind, by the bitter legal battle with the original manufacturer, that both surrounded and tainted its release. When you’re involved in a civil case like that, at County Court level, it’s very hard to keep a sense of perspective, it can easily become very all-consuming, especially when there are no legal professionals to handle everything for you. It had a profoundly damaging effect on my personal life, the aftermath of which Sam and I only just came through in one piece; it was the beginning of seven long years on anti-depressants, which may well alleviate some of the worst symptoms of unending melancholy, but it also fucks with your motivation, drive and ability to concentrate. By the time I came off the damned things, Music & Elsewhere was on its last legs. It would also be 20 years before I recorded another note, and that was just two tracks for MMATT’s 30th anniversary in 2016. Even by that point, I’d already been talking about ‘one last MMATT album’ for at least three years. It just kept not happening. Somehow, I think I needed closure on this one first. 23 years after we finished recording the album, I can finally enjoy it for what it is; “The best damn space rock ‘n roll, dance party, sci fi concept album I’ve ever heard!!!” (Jerry Kranitz, Aural Innovations)”.Alternative, underground, catchy, poppy, sequencers, keyboards, drum machine (which sounds perfect here, in its proper environment), rock and roll, time travel, fun. Yes, FUN. I love playing this as it allows me to enjoy music without concentrating too hard. Visit Mick’s site at http://www.mickmagic.net/to get the free digital download, or buy the CD. It may not be what you normally listen to, but you will be grateful you did so. 8/10

MYSTERY – THEATRE OF THE MIND – UNICORN DIGITAL

I keep being sent reminders of just how long I have been writing about progressive rock music, as here is yet another reissue of an album from aeons ago. Although looking at my records it appears I reviewed this 1996 debut at the same time as the follow-up, ‘Destiny?’, two years later (yes, I do realise that is still 20 years ago!). Mystery have changed somewhat over the years, both in personnel and in musical style, but guitarist Michel St-Père was driving them back then, just as he is now. Divided into two sections, “The Reality” and “The Dream”, those who have only come across the band since 2007’s ‘Beneath The Veil of Winter’s Face’ will be somewhat surprised to realise that they started their recording career as a band who had far more in common with Styx and Journey than their far more progressive stylings, although they also make their presence felt. 

Many people liken original vocalist Gary Savoie as having a very similar voice to Steve Perry, and it is something I also said back then, but listening to this album again after so many years what really struck me was just how bloody good it is. The best song is “Black Roses”, which moves from gentle acoustic melodies led by a flute to Kansas-style rock, but there is movement throughout the whole album, with fluid arrangements and a band working really well together. It is easy to listen to, without ever falling into the trap of being easy listening, and feels fresh and invigorating. 

In 2017 the 16 track audio tapes were restored and transferred in digital, and then completely re-mixed by Michel St-Père  while respecting the original performance of the band also featuring Gary Savoie, Benoît Dupuis, Michel Painchaud, original artwork created by late drummer Stéphane  Perreault and mastering by bassist Richard Addison. I have been a fan of the band for twenty years, yet I had forgotten just how enjoyable their debut album is. It may be scorned by prog purists, but in reality there are only two types of music in this world, good and bad, and this more definitely is the former. 8/10

OPETH – GARDEN OF THE TITANS – NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS

On 11th May 2017 Opeth played  the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado, and it has now been released DVD, Blu-Ray and vinyl formats. I was rather late coming to Opeth, but still remember when ‘Ghost Reveries’ came to my attention in 2005 – their 8thstudio album – and was absolutely blown away. Since then they have moved further into the progressive field, but in its truest sense, as they mix old school early Seventies organ-dominated progressive rock with death-influenced metal, often in the same song. There is no point in trying to work out what genre is the right place to fit Opeth as Mikael Åkerfeldt threw the rule book away long ago, if he ever owned a copy in the first place, and that is certainly debatable.

Harmonies and gentle baritone vocals can give way to death growls, and heavily commercial songs can turn into metallic monsters with little or no warning. There is a huge sound to the band, incredible to think that the noise is being created by just five people. It is bombastic, heavily over the top, yet can also fall into pure folk if that is what is needed. The band are in full control, and they take the crowd with them at all times. At one point Åkerfeldt tells the crowd that it is being recorded, but that if they then buy the album any mistakes will have magically disappeared!

There really isn’t any other band like Opeth, so if you are a fan then you simply must have this. And if you’re not, why not give a try anyway? 8/10

RAVEN – SCREAMING MURDER DEATH FROM ABOVE: LIVE IN AALBORG – SPV

1979 was Year Zero for a new musical movement in the UK, and a term was coined by Deaf Barton which perfectly summed it up, NWOBHM. I was 16 at the time, listening to Tommy Vance on a Friday night, reading Sounds music magazine, and trying to buy as many singles and albums I could of the phenomenon. One of the issues I had was I lived in a small town in the West of England, and it was incredibly hard to get hold of material. So much so that I wrote to Neat Records asking how I could get hold of their material as no-one stocked it near me! I was soon the envy of my mates as they sent me stickers and badges to try and make up for it, all of them emblazoned with the logo of one of my favourite bands, Raven. There are a few singles from that time which have gone down in history, Iron Maiden’s “Soundhouse Tapes” and Def Leppard’s “Getcha Rocks Off” are just a couple. But in the North East Neat Records were becoming THE label, with one incredible release after another. Within their first ten singles was the debut by Tygers of Pan Tang, Fist, Venom, Blitzkrieg and “Don’t Need Your Money” by Raven (who incidentally were also the first band on the label to release a second single, as well as the first album).

Raven had decided to speed everything up, something they called athletic rock, and was a huge impact on the scene which followed – that both Metallica and Anthrax were given their first touring opportunities with Raven was no surprise to anyone. Over the years the Gallagher brothers (John, bass/vocals and Mark, guitar) have kept the flag flying for their style of metal, and for much of that time drummer Joe Hasselvander has been at the back, but shortly before their 2017 US tour he suffered a heart attack, putting an end to his active music career. After a few temporary replacements, it was quickly decided that Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy) would be Raven’s new drummer. They settled in to doing what they do best, blasting uncompromising metal into the masses, and when they left the stage at Skråen in November they were presented with a digital copy of the gig they had just performed. What made this unusual is that none of the band were aware it was being recorded, so it was a case of turning up, plugging in, and blasting it out without any thought to what it might mean from a recording aspect.The band has been in existence now for some 44 years, and although I can’t speak for the very early years, what is playing now is a beefed-up version of the same band I fell in love with back in 1980. These guys are showing no sign at all of slowing down, or going down a different path, this is a band still playing “Faster Than The Speed of Light” and meaning every single word. It is harder and faster than it was when they were 30 years younger, and this set is essential to anyone who enjoys this style of music. It is brutal NWOBHM. Turn it up, play it loud, and party as if it 1979, not some forty years later. I may be seeing this with rose tinted glasses given how much I loved this band in my youth, but when metal is a brutal, raw, and bloody excellent as this, then it demands attention. 10/10

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