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To the reviews index
STEVE COCHRANE
- The Purest Of Designs
Spirit Compass Music 1998

Is it new Steve Howe album? No, It's another Steve playing, Cochrane. Quite rarely you hear Howe's followers. Here you do. The same atmospheric harmonies are delivered by great fluid guitar in "To The Glory Of Man", a piece thoughtful and exquisite. Guitar and keyboards are so eloquent! They really speak, so the next track is titled "When Music Speaks", although there is a voice in this uptempo one. "I am the voice of a vision, an architect of precision", says Cochrane and that's true. Short organ solo may resemble Wakeman's yet, given that, the progressions are a little YES-like. And for the next half an hour you're welcomed to "Songs For Spring" suite, mighty epic, new "Gates Of Delirium". Acoustic and electric guitars create a immaculate trap you can't escape. Voice just adds words to the story told by the instruments. Very beautiful is tragic-toned "The Dreadful Weed", the fourth of the "Songs", balancing on the verge of flamenco. Through the gentle "Dreams Of Reason" we're lead to another epic, "The Promise Of The Music", jazz-tinged and the most progressive of all. Arresting work.

If you can call this Howe-ness a flaw, let there be flaw!

****
NODENS ICTUS -
Spacelines
Stretchy Records 2000

This is a project of OZRIC TENTACLES guitar player Ed Wynne and keyboardist Joie Hinton, ex-OZRICS and now in EAT STATIC and the project less imaginative and down-to-earth as TENTACLES - if OT music can be called down-to-earth. Pure ambient stuff, quite and even silent - opener, "The Grove Of Selves" is just keyboard passages and nothing more. Acoustic guitar penetrates "Spacelines" and here the duo shines. I don't know whether the two listened to Steve Howe & Paul Sutin albums but they really should have to. The problem with the album is lack of focus not say melodies lost in soundscapes of, say, "Chickens In The Mist". If melodies present as in "The Gong Of Ra" they simply elude you. To concentrate on music is as difficult as easy to concentrate on anything else while it plays. Even diverse groove of "Sharpening The Norm" won't distract you. And Hinton and Wynne seem to know it and call "Aerial Procession". Well, it is.

**
OZRIC TENTACLES
- Waterfall Cities
Stretchy Records 1999

If there's a band able to introduce the electronic-mind generation to progressive world, it's OZRICS. The band paints on the canvas Howe and Hackett are masters of. OZRICS succesfully devoured all the classic craft - Ian Anderson's flute witchery, Tony Banks' keyboards pavements, Chris Squire's bass hooks - to come up with something unique and completely theirs. Etherial in places, their music can be tight as a knot. While synthesizers sound quite out-there-ish there always folk motifs present - mostly Chinish, clear in "Xingu" and "Ch'ai" - to tie music to Earth. And it's not 'world music' being as authentic as Jon Anderson's efforts are. If you want to have this stuff labelled call it experimental new age, yet it can be as intense as relaxable as title track shows.

"Ch'ai" is a gem, combining Asian motifs with European classical music and progressive rock. Sometimes pieces may seem improvisional ("Spiralmind") but they not which is good for a studio work. And though your ear might not catch a song to sing along, the music, smooth and soothing, appeals to everyone.

****1/5
ION VEIN -
Beyond Tomorrow
Majesphere Recods 1999

These guys pretend to know what progressive metal is. That it's not only DREAM THEATER. Intro "Horizons" compels attention with a piano against heavy riffs but with "Reflections Unclear" band charts more trodden territory of time changes and musicianship but lack of memorable melody. "Fading Shadow" may be a stage favourite but here it feels unbearably long. And the reason is too many pieces stitched together yet each could make for a good song had it been worked on well. Do ION VEIN avoid melodies intentionally? Very likely so - just listen to the quasi-ballad "Heart Of The Matter". With "Static Vision" comes a moment when MAIDEN influences can't be hidden anymore. Oh, the bass has been speaking of Harris from the start. But from now on the band is where it belongs playing free'n'easy. So why try to be progressive if classic heavy metal is your thing? ION VEIN are great in "The Bridge Of Dawn" and on to the end of album, aren't they? Don't be ashamed of what you CAN do, guys!

***
THRESHOLD -
Extinct Instinct
Giant Electric Pea 1997

This one is a good example of a band sinking down due to struggle from within, losing battle to itself while fighting to find a balance between metal and progressive leanings. Two components are clear from the off, "Exposed", in which art rock organ tries to complement sharp guitar riffage and the interplay appears successful unless gets marred by vocal line. Damian Wilson has great pipes but melody restricts him. Time changes just make the tune elusive. If a piece lasts quite long, as in "Eat The Unicorn", it's great. Mostly we hear a mix of "SABBATH plus Gillan" gloom with the best GENESIS harmonies ("Unicorn", "Lake Of Despond"). The more progressive the best. Who doubts they can metal up? So speed cuts ("Somatography") are really needless and while "Forever" may seem a little predictable, it's here where THRESHOLD belong. The band shines when focused on the song rather than showing off the musicianship. And piano-driven "Clear", simple and gentle is beatlefan Damian at his best.

The material is much greater than that of RHAPSODY and NIGHTWISH and recommended for young fans, old rockers will find it uninspired.

***
VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Best of
Manikin Records
Manikin Records 2000

Manikin aims at those who's choice is top-notch experimental music. This sampler presents ten artists which are not my cup of tea but music is music.

"New Times" by Fanger & Kersten starts not unlike to "Crazy Diamond" but makes a turn to new age/trance thing, less imaginative but more danceable and good for relaxation. Good tune and time changes fill RAINBOW SERPENT's "Pulse Transmission Part 5", too device-heavy for my taste. "Tear 4" by Detief Keller, on the contrary, is great, with a smooth piano line.

"Phasenverzerrung" played by RAMP sounds pompous though attractive. Synth and percussion interplay in ARCANUM's "Timehunter" resembles that of Wakeman and Tony Fernandez - until groove comes in - but melody is quite enjoyable. Broekhuis, Keller, Schonwalder and others joined forces for a long but quite boring track "Ghost In The Machine/731", a part of a bigger thing that, I guess, could make you drowse. But your sleep will be sweeter with subtle "Future Of The Past" by SPYRA. The most interesting of all is Steve Hug's "Timespace Victory", which really could make a part of "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast". Those who's into that kind of music will find this compilation maybe not musthave yet good, who's not just won't pay attention.

***
DAVID COVERDALE -
Into The Light
EMI 2000

Long awaited release, isn't it? It was really intriguing to listen to what David would make once he got rid of the band of his. His two solo albums were very interesting as he drifted aside from his PURPLE thing. Then David Coverdale created this sexy ensemble. And now he's free from the macho image. So what he came up with now?

Oh, he's back to his blues element which was lost for last decade. Work with Page seems to have served David well. And Jimmy's influences are obvious from the very start, from the "Kashmir"-ish instrumental intro "...Into The Light". Powerful piece: three guitars played by Doug Bossi, Earl Slick and DC himself. Slick and Bossi are the men that underpin David's blues impeccably - more, perhaps, than Marsden and Moody. Without a pause they break into "River Song". Is it "Catch The Rainbow" in the beginning? There are similarities but don't forget that Ritchie borrowed the hook from Hendrix's "Little Wing". David sings in his best Paul Rodgers' style, but then the song gets heavier yet bluesy, with deep wailing organ and strong guitar lines. It's as mighty as never before in Coverdale's canon.

"She Give Me" is ZEPPELIN-esque to the core - both in its acoustic and electric components. In "Don't You Cry", the first ballad, David sings very laid back - as twenty years ago. You just feel now a matured man, not that lusty boy Coverdale has been for so long. The same goes for acoustic, strings-decorated "Love Is Blind", soft and delicate while genuine Coverdale-ish with a little McCartney bit added. With "Slave" DC's back to the WHITESNAKE hard rock we know so well but really don't miss. But how bluesy it is! "Till The Day I Die" of the new century. Marco Mendoza's bass kicking you in the ass plus another triple guitars feast and harmonica soloing give us rock'n'roll David seemed to have avoided since "Wine, Women And Song". Back to Seventies? The time is right!

"Living On Love" starts cold and reminds of "The Rain Song" but becomes hotter on the catchy chorus though staying close to ZEP style. "Midnight Blue" with its piano and harmony vocals can easily be on "Northwinds". Even MTV audience would love it, I guess. The third version of "Too Many Tears" is completely different from the previous ones, another arrangement makes it so fresh. Can't say it's better - it's just different, sung too relaxed. Coverdale likes to re-record his stuff - remember two "Fool For Your Loving", four "Here I Go Again", two "Crying In The Rain", two "Blind Man" - but this time he did much greater re-make than ever before.

Never thought DC can sound so modern as he does in "Don't Lie To Me". There's something of VAN HALEN but David DID work with Eddie last year. Now you can imagine what would come out of that jam. Female voice on Coverdale's record? Yes! Low voice against acoustic guitars sounds so gentle duetting with 'Earthangel' as David calls her. So "Wherever You May Go" should not be a line from "Waiting On You" in your memory, now it's filled with another lyrical content.

So how bloody right was Coverdale having removed sexism from his music - not completely, it's David in the end! - but to a certain extent. If we expected soul record we're not robbed as there's much more delight in "Into The Light" than we could imagine.

Just one thing: is it a joke to write in the players' list to each song "lead vocal: David Coverdale"?

*****
FREDDY CURCI -
Then & Now
Frontiers Records 2000

Not sure there are many people who still remember Freddy, a fromer singer with SHERIFF and ALIAS, even though he had a Number 1 hit in US with "When I'm With You" presented here in live version - piano driven but too honeydripping track. Curci is a master of delivering great AOR but of the kind that sounds a little dated on the verge of Millenium. OK, if there BON JOVI belting out and making the charts, why Curci chouldn't make it?

This compilation spans all the singer's career - from his band's work in 1990 up to new song of 2000 and some old ones re-recorded in Italian. As good Curci is in poppy hard rock of "Haunted Heart" or "Into The Fire" (ZEP's influences on the surface) as saccharine he's in ballads like "More Than Words Can Say". And it's all because of Curci's voice, clear and strong, and straightforwarede melodies. In "Waiting For Love" Freddy's even not unlike to DURAN DURAN staples. Oh, "The Power" rocks you to the bone with its catchy chorus and slide guitar licks. And how driving folky "Brown Eyed Girl" utilizing acoustic guitar and accordion and Barocco "Senza Te" are!

Previously unreleased ALIAS track "Bare Necessity" is solid and strong. Had QUEEN recorded it we'd had a big hit. New soulful ballad "Finally"? MTV-friendly but too regular. Which can't be said of heartwrecking acoustic "Diamonds".

Too boring in places, as a whole this CD appeals not only for young AORsters but for their teenage girlfriends as well.

***1/5
NEBELNEST -
Nebelnest
The Laser's Edge 1999

If you didn't pass the test of listening to KING CRIMSON you should keep away from NEBELNEST, French band that plead allegion to God of Improvisation. Influences can be felt while they're not so ostensible - and how can be ostensible those in improvs like "Pooks" which opens and closes the album. Synthesizer hides the guitar here which is, underpinned by bass, welcomed to the fore in more focused "Shafoo", the first part of 'Psykial Trysm" suite. Experimental to the extent of not losing the melody point. Mellotron sounds are quite rare these days but here they're present in abundance. The second part, "Najha", has that raga drone you could expect from the title. Indian trance? Maybe, but there's much more to the piece than that. Get dervished must serve NEBELNEST as a motto!

"Etude De Shimshot" is very close to the "Larks' Tongues" material and that mars the impression. But once bass soloes with organ you just get high. A moment comes to be unleashed with another improvisation, "Uncertain Journey". Well, all the album is improvisional but there are three tracks that more loose so they got sub-titled "Improv".

Great and powerful "Solilock" instantly makes me think of John Wetton and the reason is bass work, so mighty and melodic that UK wouldn't be ashamed of. "Absinthe" is of this kind, too, though with more time changes. You could easily imagine David Cross's violin added to this one. "Crab Nebula" sports Eastern melody which was hinted of in previous track. Quite a dramatic yet jazzy piece.

A worthy work, indeed, though it seems unfinished in terms of mood.

****1/5
HEAVENS FIRE -
The Outside
Frontiers Records 2000

What a mighty album! I thought solid melodic metal of this kind is dead. Well, MAIDEN are still here, but new ones... Fortunately, there are heirs of tradition. HEAVEN FIRE are just three lads but DO they play, opening their debut with "Beyond", powerful and catchy track that lets the musicians show their abilities with solo spots for every instrument. Bass is especially amazing - throughout the album. Having this in mind one can't help but think of RUSH though the band sounds more like VAN HALEN. Yes, excellent guitar - until these rare moments when technique comes instead of soul

"Future's Warning" - is it a new "Children Of The Sea"? Those under DIO influence rarely match original while the trio's really able to. Rock'n'roll numbers "Can You Believe" and "Long Way" have 80s stadium feel to them but in places HEAVEN FIRE still looks for balance between 80s sheer hard rock ("Tommy") and semi-acoustic 90s pieces ("Mirror") with their heavy/soft changes.

There are neither ballads obligatory for the genre nor epics which is not bad, the fact only shows HEAVEN FIRE have the vision of their own and don't want to be ditched down to others' schemes. And with melodies sometimes a little weaker than the players' skills a listener should really be reminded that "The Outside" a debut album.

****1/5
TEER - Teer
Frontiers Records 2000

Quite an interesting one, although in places music slips into banal cliches. In the beginning it's even arresting, you can help but groove to solid and thick AOR of "Heaven's Not Enough" with its sharp rock'n'roll riff. Is "Sadie" a ballad? Hard to believe 'cos it's just the second track but Dan Michaels shines as a singer throughout - from the soft start up to rocky development. What's really great is that TEER play as a tight unit rather than a bunch of soloists. Which doesn't mean that musicians are not good. It's much clearer in all the interplays - between Dan's keyboards and Shane French's and Nathan Boone's guitars, between axes and voice as in "Romeo" where it sounds just like a SABBATH thing of unison singing/playing. "Man Of The World", surely not FLEETWOOD MAC's tune yet with the same tempo.

There are ups as a brilliant May-ish solo of "Romeo" and there downs as a cheap trick of "music stops, voice doesn't" in "Vampire's Lullaby" that, given to Alice Cooper, could make a hit. When the band goes back to basic rock'n'roll in the vein of Chuck Berry ("Beggin'") they're great - is Dan a fan of John Sloman, by the way? - but if they go for Malmsteen-y neoclassic thing ("Heart On A String" or "Pride") they fail. Bluesy "Pride" is great though and had TEER made a whole album like that that would be something! And what but a good sign is the fact that the debutants mix they influences so well so none is too ostensible.

***1/5
THE VU -
Phoenix Rising
Frontiers Records 2000

Ambigous feeling you have while listening to this album. For the one recorded back in 1985 it sounds very modern while the harmonies are too dated. "Phoenix Rising" is essential for AOR afficionados but unlikely of interest for the rest. The players are top-notch ones as you see: bassist Ross Valory had his share of fame and fortune with Journey, Steff Burns had his axe working for Alice Cooper and Y&T and singer Kevin Chalfant leads TWO FIRES now. Songs are of good quality too if Cher picked "Who You Gonna Believe?" for her album and STARSHIP had recorded "Keys to the City".

The former, opener, has catchy intro played by keyboards and bass, then guitar joins in and voice - up to the point when the song becomes too regular though good. "One Track Mind", a rip-off on good blues theme, is too saccharine, too keys-laden. One can vividly imagine what Coverdale could make out of it, putting the sex thing in. More serious foray into blues field is "Hard To Get" with its BAD COMPANY riff and Rodgers' intonation. Great track! Another outstanding moment, "Lonely Heart", has a folky, even progressive feel to it. But mainly the material is nothing special, it just didn't pass the test of time, unlike of, say, ASIA's output.

**1/5
JORN - Starfire
Frontiers Records 2000

There are some singers that always in need of a good band to showcase their talents. Fortunately, Jorn Lande joined MILLENIUM for their "Hourglass" album because his solo debut is good yet very uneven. It's fine to imitate Coverdale but Lande shouldn't forget that he'd left THE SNAKES. For good, supposedly.

"Starfire" just proves that Jorn must rely strictly on his own material. Title track is amazing - great melody, voice laid back even on high notes, modest instrumentation. AOR at its best. OK, every artist is influenced by his predecessors, Lande's not exclusion. "End Comes Easy" with its raga feel and magical acoustic guitars provided by John A. Narum would suit ZEPPELIN, yes, but it sounds really fresh. The same goes for "Forever Yours", strong ballad sung in the Lande way. So why there's only half an album of originals while the rest are covers?

Jorn should have come to picking covers with more imagination. He seems to have had enough of WHITESNAKE only to sing "Burn". His version's based on DP Mark IV live renditions, unleashed and drunken. Coverdale again - thanks, Lande adapted Hughes part for his own voice. Yet, the drummer isn't Paice and ruins everything with his punk playing. And what about "Break It Up"? Again, it's literally reproduced from the FOREIGNER's original. Well, in this case if you change a bit, you kill a song. Jorn doesn't feel this point balance between rock and pop that Lou Gramm & Co have. "Edge Of The Blade" by JOURNEY is good and bouncing as is CITY BOY's "The Day The Earth Caught Fire" with its fine guitar/keyboards interplay.

Hard rock is where the singer's at home, heavy metal's not his cup of tea. So "Gate Of Tears" sounds too stupid as the melody is weak and vocals uninspired. Why these KING DIMOND screaming when you have a great set of pipes? Transition to MILLENIUM - that's what the closing "Abyss Of Evil" is. Strong riff, thick sound - lyrics very close to URIAH HEEP's "Wise Man". A fitting end.

If there will be more solo stuff from Jorn, hopefully he'll be much more original.

****
VOODOO HILL -
Voodoo Hill
Frontiers Records 2000

Surely, there's a lot of those who found Glenn Hughes's last album "R.O.C.K." a little disappointing form the melodic point of view. Well, yes, it's obvious that for Glenn it takes an appropriate guitar player to come up with great stuff. And there is one, called Dario Mollo, the mastermind behind THE CAGE project that involved Tony Martin and Don Airey.

This time it's called VOODOO HILL and the singer is Hughes. Hughes that we all eager to hear, not experimenting but enjoying. Why the emphasis is on Glenn? Because it's him who seems to reign on this album. Quite difficult to see how Mollo plays when free from his influences - Iommi on THE CAGE and Blackmore on HILL. Although Hughes is credited for his lyrics, all the vocal lines are undoutedly his, too. Dario just couldn't help but give up to the real star of the show. Anyway, the two complement each other well. The only flaw is the cover of PURPLE's "The Gypsy". The song sounds dry and close to the original. Band veering away from DP is more interesting. Hughes sings both parts, high and low, his and Coverdale's, and that's the mistake.

The opener, "Sensitive", sports the huge riff and a swirling Hammond that make you feel on the familiar playground. Glenn puts on his Stevie Wonder face, Mollo works very laid back and it's just great. SABBATH's heaviness and enstranged vocal pave the road in "Disconnected". Guitar goes ferocious and soloes like hell. But you should keep your breath for "Golden One (Gabi's Song)", because it's a new "Coast To Coast", sung in that same way, delicately and charming, supported by airy guitar and keyboards. Little by little, Hughes spreads his wings and sings with all his might. A real song of devotion dedicated to Glenn's fiancee.

Relaxed? Get up with "Spun In Lost Wages" with its machine gun attack and a magical solo. Then back to Glenn's beloved funk of "Keep It To Yourself". The Funk Man explores different voices and the mannerism that he's a great master of. You can bet it's Hughes playing this groovy swinging bass but it's one Max Matis. Oh, what's it on "24"? Folk in the vein of BLACKMORE'S NIGHT? Only in the beginning but, sung by this voice, rather mediocre ballad's good. On the first listening one can overview "Just Another Monday" yet on the second spin it bites you well, a real balance of two talents. "Black Leather" eventually demonstrates real Mollo, rocking and rolling at full throttle, guitar's cold but intellectual, and Hughes has managed to put "www" in the lyrics. To end it all there's a title track. Bluesy yet uptempo, guitar crawls out of nowhere to the front to create together with African percussion something "Kashmir"-like.

What's interesting is who's to sing on the next one from Dario, a master of cherrypicking? Plant? I won't be surprised if so. And Hughes' fans, you have nothing to complain about now, haven't you?

*****
STUART SMITH -
Heaven And Earth
Frontiers Records 1999

See the DVD

Oh what a fun this album is to listen to! Stuart Smith is Ritchie Blackmore's disciple, which is quite an interesting event. The result of two guitar players' co-writing we'll hear on the second "Heaven And Earth" outing to be released soon while this one is extremely interesting, too.

The opener "Don't Keep Me Waiting" starts off with a folky tune turned into the catchy riff with brilliant guitar spells immediately smelling of the Man in Black. Kelly Hansen of HURRICANE fame delivers a light vocal line a little contrasted with heavy chords. Especially impressive is the middle bridge and what's great is that Smith doesn't try to cram too many notes in one solo as does Yngwie. For coda Ray Rodrigues supplies hi-fi Hammomd solo leaving a listener bedazzled on facing something familiar yet original.

Another acoustic intro leads us into the title track. Joe Lynn Turner sings very softly - just like in "Tearin' Out My Heart" or "Love Conquers All" - but later on the piece becomes uptempo, really RAINBOW-like, although acoustic guitar remains there all the way through. Yes, the next one is pure blues, a classic "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" by Blind Lemon Jefferson as 'talked' by Smith's acoustic slide guitar and Richie Sambora's dobro. The voice is unmistakable pipes of Glenn Hughes. He starts vocalizing and you find - if you didn't know this before - that it's not "L.A. Cut-Off", that amazing Glenn is never as good blues singer as funky. Hughes gets over the top with his mannerism and melismas and screaming that just doesn't fit the blues. But it's quite heavy and anyway good. The shiny rhythm section consists of Chuck Wright and one Carmine Appice.

The blusier the purplier and we are treated with "When A Blind Man Cries", not only played but sung by Sambora. It punchs you even more than original as Richie doesn't imitate Gillan. Solos deviate from Blackmore's too. "Memories" is a great melodic song which fits Joe Lynn like a glove. We always love him to sing such a poppy hard rock that gets us joining in in the chorus.

And you just can't help laughing as some acoustic guitar bars make room for the familiar beat of "Difficult To Cure', which it's not. The track called "Dreams Of Desire" is a take on Bach, not Beethoven. Well, the organ is replaced with harpsichord but the arrangement and vibe leave no doubt that it's a loving joke towards Ritchie.

As is the following "Trouble In Paradise". This rock'n'roll is a re-make of "Can't Happen Here" both in musical and lyrical context, though the riff is similar to that of "Rock Fever". Thanks God, the singer is Hansen, not JLT. Ah, there's another vet present, Steve Priest, the bass man of SWEET. Turner returns to sing "Shadow Of Tyburn Tree", a real gem close to the BLACKMORE'S NIGHT stuff but much more greater. It's a long time since Ritchie managed to have written a ballad so beautiful and gentle as folky. Acoustic guitar supported by strings from Pat Regan make this one more deep. Very tearful and sentimental cry for lost love.

And not to let you break down "It Got To Be Love" kicks off, organ-laden rock'n'roll with pseudo-brass and female back vocals and hand-clapping and feet-stomping - all like in "Power", RAINBOW tune that's hard to bear.

Now Blackmore's eventually left behind and the blues are welcomed in again. "When The Blues Catch Up With You", written and delivered by Al Mirikitani would have suit Paul Rodgers well. There's Paul ex-cohort present in the person of Howard Leese whose guitar makes trio with axes of Stuart and Al. "Do You Ever Think Of Me" sounds bluesy too but is more uptempo and very close to the 80s AOR. The second instrumental piece, "The Road To Melnibone", plagiarizing "The Loner" which everyone is familiar with by Gary Moore's version, has three guitars singing - Smith's, Leese's and Iain Hersey's 12-string.

Paul Shortino was invited to belt off "Howlin' At The Moon", bluesy hard rock number with hooky riff and if it's nothing special one just gets high with "Telstar 2000" written by Blackmore's mentor Joe Meek. Smith maintains the spirit of time with low sound, not distorted by processors and with acoustic guitar background. To finish the album off the band gives its full in "Lose My Number". This rock'n'roll is preceded by a strange electronic sound but develops into rather standard piece with all the PURPLE tips that make you think what quotes are in it.

"Heaven And Earth" is essential for every Blackmore's fan. For the rest it's classic hard rock in its best.

***** - for fun
QOPH -
Kalejdoskopiska
Aktiveteter
Record Heaven 1998

Frankly saying, never thought that anyone's able to breed CRIMSO with MAC. Can you imagine two things more different than cold abstract Fripp's musing and Green's hot-coal boogie? Never in your wildest dreams? Try this one.

It's time to catch the music not the words because, I guess, not many of us speak Swedish. And it sounds really good along with the music the quintet plays. In the beginning, "Vansinnet", with the first sounds of progressive-coloured blues one can help but think of Steve Hackett - who else off art rock musicians dared to play pure blues in his own unmistakable style? QOPH work in different way, playing much heavier and with some KINKS-like catchy harmonies. Music has a little Arabic feel throbbing and talking, adorned by violin. Sometimes it's almost cross between hard rock and jazz.

Jazzy is "Ta farval", the new "Red". Frantic sax wailing around guitars. Time changes every now and then. Now music tights and seconds later it breaks loose. If KING CRIMSON is the blueprint for QOPH it's CRIMSO from 1973-74, the most unleashed. One easily recognizes Frippian attack and Wetton's raw vocals in "An Lyser Manen". OK, I agree, if there's "Red" why not continue with "One More Red Nightmare"? Very familiar signs and hooks, guitar lines more melodic though. And now back to blues field. Instrumental "Manvarn" kicks off as "Albatross" soaring higher and higher to spread its wings into a great guitar solo supplied with quite funny sound effects. Drum solo is not something to enjoy on the studio albums but it helps to set a live mood. Moreover, "En Mane Som Ler" appears to be short but frolicing and boogieing R'n'B.

Time to be relaxed a little bit comes with "Aldrig Tillbaks", soft and more folky and experimental tune interspersed here and there with heavy riffing. "Herr Qophs Villfarelser" is again progressive blues but this time it's sparse and athmospheric reminding of "Crazy Diamond". Slide guitar is very good. And, to the end, two-part mighty boogie-down of "Forforande Radsla", raw but fresh and making you run to buy all the SAVOY BROWN, GROUNDHOGS and early MAC albums.

What's around the bend is up to the band. Promising, very much so.

****
KAMELOT -
The Fourth Legacy
Noise Records 2000

Everybody plays his own game and the one KAMELOT plays is solid melodic metal. Now they're reduced to a four-piece unit having lost the permanent keyboardist. Oh, the keys are there, the band invited some guest to take their share in the album and the result is extremely satisfactory.

Keyboards intro is a common place for every KAMELOT album but now it, "New Allegiance", is interesting and uptempo, not as standard epic-like as usual. The title track is a killer and surprising when introducing us to the female voice that complements Khan's pipes very well. "Desert Reign", Marocco-styled rhythmic piece played on the authentic instruments and turning into "Nights Of Arabia", arguably the peak of the album. Catchy chorus, the melody has no signs of Middle East music though. Band seems to have gotten rid of MAIDEN influences and indulge with inserting into an uptempo song some soft spot. As if to compensate for the "Arabia" Eastern motifs are in a solo of "The Shadow of Uther". Voice make here a good trick singing in unison with guitar and another one surprise comes in a form of Scottish march in the end.

"A Sailorman's Hymn". I'm not sure if KAMELOT are familiar with Sandy Denny's rendition of "Sailor's Life" but the folk mood is quite the same, set by acoustic guitar lace interwoven with voice and underlined by keys. Another great ballad is "Glory". Guitar, strings - especially cello - and voice, you just fear it's an intro for another smash but, fortunately, it's not. The finale is good, too, though not very bright.

Essential for melodic metal afficionados.

****
MOTOR TOTEMIST GUILD -
All America City
Rotary Totem Records 2000

Be careful with a new incarnation of U TOTEM! If you used to skip "Revolution 9" every time you spin your copy of the "White Album" or listen to it due to respect to John, this one's not for you. But if some Zappa exercises send shivers down your spine, you're warmly welcomed.

Maybe for 2000 this music is not so avant-garde as could be in the late Sixties but what a enjoyable body of work it is! It's a soundtrack to the motion picture "Yu Gakusei" (well, it's based on the screenplay, I'm not sure the movie's out) and is not a collection of songs with some snippets of the film's chatting. It's a pure musical collage composed of, mostly, short vignettes. Some of them may seem strange for a stranger's ear while others are very melodic and even hummable as, for instance, "Stardust Mobile Estates" which reminds of art rock of yore - GENESIS, TULL...

OK, there are odd sounds: slapping doors, singing birds, honking cars but James Grisby put a lot of effort to once again convince us that music eventually is nothing more than organized noise. Everything we can reckon non-musical could turn out like great melody. From any viewpoint "All America City" is a masterpiece in a field of progressive music - I don't know what the symphony critics might say about it.

Between the cold abstract tunes there are some very hot ones hidden - listen to "Friendly Liquors" with its Broadway-like sax, isn't the piece accords to its title. Real instruments are what shines through the album, it's not so electronic and samples-laden as some may presume.

The CD should be listened to from the off right to the end. You can, of course, take off separate tracks and have fun with "Ron's Barbary Coast" if you're a fan of early Seventies progressive, or with some tunes that could easily be identified with THE BEATLES sound experiments (still heard only on bootlegs, sure) but thus you won't feel all the hugeness of this work. Yes, there is a story in itself on the album, called "Yamatonadeshiko", which is a little longer that it's title and stretched for almost half an hour. This one is sparse and complicate, in places it sounds as though we hear some orchestra rehearsal or as piano orgy.

Definitely, "All America City" isn's so poppy to stay with you from the first listening but once you've given it a spin you feel the need for one more shot. And one more. And more.

*****
TELLTALEHARD - Spiral Stairs
self-budget 1999

Where the world is going to if bands such as this could be unsigned while every day we hear a lot of pus jumping on us from the radio! In TELLTALEHARD's music we can easily track down the traces off the band's power metal past, which is not bad while the music is quite experimental and fresh.

"Spiral Stairs" is a mini-album consisted of 5 tracks stretching for half an hour. And these 30 minutes are worthy to be spent off. The music can be defined as progressive metal - at least, it sound like this in places. Time changes don't let you space to breathe and analyze. The title piece is as melodic as aggressive, speedy fragments are interspersed with more slow ones. Chorus is catchy, of AOR kind, while neoclassic-type solo sounds a little spaced-out. Bouncing and more light is "Tip The Scale", attack of progressive shark with classic hard rock tip (of the scale).

Talking guitars and conspiring voice lead into "Beacon Light *I'm Not Stranger*", the great example of contemporary AOR with a well-hidden YES intonations. In progressive music should always be an epic, so here it is, "A Living Page Of My Story", starting mighty. This power dissolves in airy guitar/bass interplay. Ballad? Not as much because it develops into solid hard rock. And yes, there's an acoustic guitar soloing with passion.

Edgy rock is what's called "Cynical Hope" but sometimes it's folk-tinged when vocal comes to the fore. Solo is powerful, BLACK SABBATH reminiscenses overtly shown towards the end. A little more fantasy, guys, and you'll make it big if you won't go grunge.

***1/5

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