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WHERE ECHOES END -
By The Pricking Of My Thumb
Beak Aboy 2000

At first you're impressed with an artwork. No, no dragons and queens - it's art working for music, philosophic and for best comprehension supplied with comments. Experimental stuff based on synthesizers and sampling. If you're in for bright melody, you're immediately out. Part I of the suite is called "To The Enlightened Man". It is, but not for Buddahs - although enigmatic to the same extent. The band states "Endless Forms Most Beautiful". Very tongue-in-cheek because they don't get lost in the loops and know their target well. It's on the surface further on, in "The Face In The Mirror" consisting of ten pieces, intricated but beautiful. The most magical is Indian-toned snippet with female voice. Even KULA SHAKER fans will go for it. And organ sounds magnificient, too. Moreover, the fact that speaking voices go well with music we know since "The Wall".

Blurred boundaries, ECHOES say? Ah, bag it - boundaries are clear, keeping music as music and not letting it go for free form. What's really blurred is your counter as every Part include sub-parts and you can't follow the titles. "Wild Imaginings" as they call Part V. But should we ask for more?

*****
ANUBIS SPIRE -
Old Lions
(In The World Of Snarling Sheep)
Random Bullet 1998

Starting metal-like, music immediately gets as much progressive. "So Be It" is tight with its Arabic tune but with "It Has Been A Long Time" band go improvising while retaining this Eastern feel, the trick's repeated later with authentic "Eternal Resonance" and "Road To Damascus". Vocals are introduced only on the fourth track, light and catchy "Underneath The Roswell Sun" which makes me think of TRAFFIC. I won't be surprised if guitarist Bill MacKechnie appears with any major name.

Well, "More Weight" is indeed heavy and it's clear that ANUBIS just try everything they think could suit them. What fits the most are compositions with warm guitar as of "Gone West" rather than cold one, though FLOYDian "Ransom" sounds good anyway. But what's annoying is how some instrumental pieces abrupt with no fade out, however ballad "Talisman Of The Dreamer" compensates impression to a certain extent.

Epic title track ends the CD very strong and if ANUBIS concentrate for the next album it'll be terrific.

****
HAIR OF THE DOG - Rise
Spitfire Records 2000

Don't start thinking of NAZARETH, you can't smell Scotland in this band. Their idols are KISS and AEROSMITH, though sometimes HOTD get heavy to SABBATH extent. And it's clear yet the result tastes good. Which can't be said of the album's cover so remindful of HEEP's "Conquest". "Rise" is the band's second album, the debut was out three years ago. And while the first was made in hurry, this opus took much more responsibility - just look at the producer's name which is Michael Wagener.

"Rise" presents a quality mix of melodism and riffs and make tracks like "Color Me Fire" and "I Can't Fight You" very memorable. The quartet don't forget to pay homage to their gods having recorded "I" off the KISS' "Elder". And not only, there's a hidden track, an acoustic version of "Out Of Control" stuck to the tape at the drinking session. It smokes.

****
THE SPINATRAS -
@midnight.com
CMC International 2000

Well, the sign @ in the albums titles starts to be annoying. Internet is a good thing and helpful for promoting the music yet it hardly should be let into the music. OK, while the boys play good, nothing else matters. And this band CAN play having Ross Friedman in the line up. Yes, it's the same Friedman who had his share of fame under Ross The Boss moniker - but, boy, don't expect from this new group "true metal" of the MANOWAR or THE DICTATORS kind. THE SPINATRAS are for rock'n'roll, a heavy sort of, sure. Something like STATUS QUO.

Lyrics pretend to be clever though. "Comfort Zone" tells about nowadays teenager's life hardened by parents not liking the child's piercing and tattoos. Title track, of course, has chats and role game as its subject while "Gene Genie" (stay calm, Bowieheads!) deals with genetics. So, everything's on the surface. Music, fortunately, is less serious but nevertheless boring. And it's just a doubt whether this effort was worthy a year's work.

***
QANGO -
Live In The Hood
Manticore 2000

Terrific concert of an unknown band. Just one problem - after all these John Wetton's live albums it seems difficult to think of this one as of band's effort. Carl Palmer is great but only a drummer and doesn't add much to melodies. Old Wetton's cohorts John Young and Dave Kilminster are given proper band members positions now but, again, QANGO contain too many soloists to be a real unit.

Not escaping the fact they were a half of ASIA, Wetton and Palmer try to shape QANGO somehow different, that's why excerpt from "Fanfare For The Commom Man" precedes mighty attack of "Time Again" and raw "Soul Survivor" - especially if compared to version on "Nomansland". Kilminster lets loose and one can't help thinking what a mature player he turned out to be. Wetton steps back giving his colleagues as much spotlight and gets laid back himself. The four enjoy a club atmosphere so Wetton puts on jazzy shoes, other John delves into honky tonk piano and here it is, "Bitches Crystal", looking as if destined for that voice. Having switched to ELP mode, Dave begins his exquisite acoustic solo with a quote from "Pictures" stretching it later on into fantastic "All Along The Watchtower". QANGO's baroque approach is close to Dylan's songs played by Steve Howe rather than Hendrix.

"The Last One Home" comes as a real surprise being an "Archangel" twin brother with the identical intro and some lyrics/melodic lines but demo feel though. Young's piano solo's filled with quotes, too, he joyfully bounce around Beethoven's Ninth before kicking off "Hoedown" freed from ELP classical restraints. And how wild is "Fanfare" given a guitar treatment and incorporating firework from Carl! "Heat Of The Moment" gets back to its original form, no more melancholy musings. Well. "Q" in the band's name stands for "quintessential". It is, QANGO.

*****
ASH RA TEMPEL -
Friendship
Manikin Records 2000

Klaus Schulze is a name everybody seems to know. Electronics maestro, Krautrock mastermind, TANGERINE DREAM godfather etc. But only a few remember Klaus originally was in a band called ASH RA TEMPEL. Then he went solo but friendship with his former bandmate guitarist Manuel Gottsching lasted. In April 2000 they re-united to play Julian Cope's Cornucopea festival with show documented on "Gin Rose" album. And it was so enjoyable that the duo decided on recording new material which "Friendship" is.

Three long pieces - and none is boring with this quiet pace, soft rhythm and arresting melody. 30-minute long "Reunion" may resemble "Atom Heart Mother" but in the end of the day smart Krautrock picked up exactly where English psychodelia broke down. Tune not catchy but one can't help following it especially when poignant guitar hooks up. And it's Manuel's guitar playing that makes "Pikant" accord to its title. The groove here sounds more intricated and even close to the world music while short guitar phrases hail directly from old blues. And even so, acoustic solo jumps om you unexpectedly to send shivers down your spine. Magnific!

"Friendship" appears to be powerful guitar soundscape based on the solid keyboard foundation - the piece requires comparison with "Crazy Diamond". Rock smelling of classical composers - that's what the title track is.

Although Kraut is mostly cold this effort certainly posesses a soul.

*****
ASH RA TEMPEL -
Gin Rose
Manikin Records 2000

Had ASH RA TEMPEL been KING CRIMSON they would come up with some fantastic title for the mighty composition this disc contains. But Manuel Gottsching and Klaus Schulze duo called this exquisite piece as poignant as it is. The music sounds quite sparse being certainly no "Larks' Tongues". But little by little it gets intensive. In places it's hard to tell phased guitar from synthesizers, a real Seventies effort which nevertheless is extremely modern in its ambience. There are just snippets of melodies TEMPEL are capable of, overall music is experimental and jazz-tinged. Considering the fact it's all recorded live (at Royal Festival Hall, at Julian Cope's Cornucopea festival) one can only wonder how good Klaus and Manuel feel each other's drift to follow and complement it the best.

In fact, "Gin Rose" is not whole piece as it has some parts, the most beautiful of them acoustic guitar solo which is to appear in "Pikant" on subsequent "Friendship" album.

Some might find the album as boring as long but in its field "Gin Rose" a gem.

****
VARIOUS ARTISTS
- Progfest '97
Pangea Music 1997

This double album should make every serious progfan's collection. Very rarely we have such a great live collection of real masters - old and young ones. Sound quality may be not so good but the efforts really are. John Wetton gives it all as usual - and this is the only John's live recording with Billy Liesegang on guitar. Liesegang turns "In The Dead Of Night" in totally different way than we used to hear. The "Rendezvous 6:02" version sounds much rougher in comparison with others seven I have. The same goes for "Starless" which band makes as bluesy as possible. Strangely, there's no Wetton's solo stuff but hearing so peculiar renditions of prog classics is worth it.

But it was a mistake to put Wetton in the beginning as his tunes are melodically richer than those from LE ORME which look like Dylan's songs played by PFM. At least, vocal parts make this impression being no balance for intricate instrumentals - as in "Madre Mia/Prima Acqua". And having not heard the band before one can unmistakably say they're Italian - harmonies and pathos tell it quite overtly. And it makes sense to compare epic "Felona E Serona" with Wakeman's "Stella Bianca".

ARENA sound somehow thin yet both "Medusa" and "Sirens" presented here are wonderful - especially latter, the mighty one, with brilliant Clive Nolan's and John Mitchell's soloing. FLOWER KINGS start their "Metropolis" in best "Watcher Of The Skies" tradition but make it too atmospheric rather than dense studio approach, just near the end the band comes up with Frippian cutting edge, and "Humanizzimo" is even more uninspired. On the contrary, SPOCK'S BEARD's vocal polyphony of "Thoughts" kicks in powerfully as does insrtumental madness in "Go The Way You Go" - unless BEARD become too GENESIS-like, jazzy section grooves though.

BIGELF deliver three pieces from the then-still-unreleased "Money Machine" album with energy the previous emsembles lack. Live, trio is even more psychodelic than with the studio wizardry. "Mindbender" could easily fit Isle of Wight festival. SINKADUS, the least known band of the pack, is given here only one track, "Attestupan", which proves to be as arresting as soft with its cello and flute remindful of GRYPHON.

The set is boring in places but pleasant overall.

****
RICK WAKEMAN -
Preludes To A Century
President 2000

The most versatile and prolific of the piano players that grew in rock came up with new album. Dedicated to new century, not Millenium - a good sign.

Pure poignant piano and nothing more. It's not the first Rick's record of this kind - there were some before, remember wonderful "Country Airs". Wakeman seems to have given up being a rock'n'roll prophet and delved headlong into music he calls new age. And having in mind how many albums veteran releases a year it's much better to listen to "Preludes" filled with strong melodies rather than those "Trilogies" Wakeman became a master of.

Rick goes back to basics, to his first and beloved instrument, and just lets it go. "A Waltz Of Life" may not be a waltz as such and "The Dancing Piano" may not be so dancing but it doesn't matter as long as the melody flows. Some might think these pieces smell of melancholy while they're not and "Preludes" should satisfy both, regular music lovers and - a hard task! - Wakeman's fans. Yes, close listening to, say, "Forever More" will show familiar tones of "Guinevere" yet "Waiting For God" is on par with Rick's best tunes of the Seventies.

If only new century be as quiet and beautiful as these "Preludes"...

*****
TEN JINN -
As On A Darkling Plain
Wildman Records/
Record Heaven 1999

A kind of concept album. You may presume it's metal but TEN JINN present something as arty as "Thick As A Brick". The album opens with lenghty title track consisting of eight parts. Classic prog rock at its best, folk motifs mixed with baroque stuff. Musicians work for music, modest and extremely melodic. It can be compared to JETHRO TULL or GENESIS - but only in terms of keyboards playing and harmonies, traditional ones, off mountains and doles, arresting and soothing. Even guitar solos go quietly. Don't think there's no memorable tune, here it is, "Byzantine Fire", serious and easy at the same time. "Theater Of The Vampires", theatric indeed - yet in the RENAISSANCE vein, being a mighty suite deeply rooted in classical music while solo reminds of CAMEL's "Rhayader". Well, vampires aren't strictly for Alice Cooper and King Diamond.

"Run Away" is a step aside to hard rock but the second proper track, "Lost In The Money", comes from folk dance. Never thought late TULL could be an ispiration - having listened to "Blind Athority" I changed my mind. Atmospheric "I Can't See" wraps you up by melody bright and compelling and together with "Lay Down Beside Me" sound very modern yet retaining all the genre signatures. I'm really in for the next one, JINN.

*****
ANKH - Demo
self-production 2000

ANKH, the great prog band hailing from Poland, is immensly popular in their native country. Very eclectic. With "Poczatek" you make yourselves ready for throbbing electronic groove but here comes "Kraina umarlych": violin playing Vivaldi concerto contrasted by sharp guitar riffage, the move may resemble Cross's soloing in CRIMSON, but it's different. And it's just logical when folky violin goes dancing in "Wiara". Paganini's Caprice 24 is a pure hard rock and is not unlike the version by Russian guitarist Victor Zinchuk - all too predictable. Tragic yet terrific, in places reminiscent of UK's "Caesar's Palace Blues", sounds "Brama" based on Dante's verse. Back to folk with jaunty "Dudziarz" and then to not so melodic "Piesn o wedrowce". "Slonce" retains folk motifs while takes off in a little BEATLE-ish way and develops into great tune that's on par with the best TEMPEST (the new one, with Lief) tunes.

"Ballades", on the contrary, seems monotonous and uninspired and could be done with more imagination than that "Exiles"-like drone. But hardcore of "BIAAza" really doesn't fit ANKH. Much better is Hassidic tune of "Enosz" played over techno background.

It's easy to picture this band live - one can feel the record just restricts these guys. So let their energy shines!

****
RENAISSANCE -
Day Of The Dreamer
Mooncrest Records 2000

At last we have the possibility to hear RENAISSANCE in full glory because all the previous releases represented the great ensemble in concert with orchestra. Well, that was pretty great but to hear the stark band was the thing all fans dreamed of. The sound quality is not top-notch and the CD shoddily packaged - without even indication on what and where was recorded, undoubtedly, it's from the late Seventies (1977, I'd say) - but music leaves it all behind.

"Can You Hear Me Call Your Name" immediately compels with Jon Camp's virtuoso bass filling every gap. John Tout provides orchestra parts and a background for Annie Haslam to shine. And she does - how this unique operatic voice can fail? The main man behind the band's music, Michael Dunford, seems to be overshadowed by his bandmates, but it's him whose acoustic guitar leads the harmony though "Carpet Of The Sun" may seem a little thin on par with orchestrated versions.

"Day Of The Dreamer" appears on the live record for the first time and sounds terrific. Soaring Annie's voice backed up by male voices and together vocals create a mini-choir while instruments build up a great musical landscape. "Back Home Once Again", another song from the "Song For All Seasons" album, was never released in live version too. Yes, it's much poppier than the earlier material but brilliant melody and perfect rendition turn it into a masterpiece. Another surprise is "Can You Understand" intro tagged to "The Vultures Fly High", very rarely heard. Interesting combination looking as if it was one piece from the off.

"A Song For All Seasons" is one more proof that Haslam's vocals weren't everything, just one of the instruments waiting for his part to appear and add this tragic note to RENAISSANCE powerful suites. When it's Annie's turn to go solo, she's in with this five-octave vocalising sending shivers down the spine - not because of high notes but of expression. And that's what "Prologue" is about, the only composition off the first (or third, if you want) RENAISSANCE album which stayed in the group's repertoire through the years. Very jazzy, unlike quintet's classical stuff - here Tout breaks in kind of ragtime soloing that turns to this List-ish piano concert fragments.

The most tragic and fragile, "Ocean Gypsy", appears there so simplistic, so quiet, taking you in its trap. No theatricality, no showmanship, no sugar icing - and what a power! And I never thought "Running Hard" can be so playful as in this variant, radiant and bouncing, more jazzy than ever.

Timeless music which suits everyone in every mood. A must have.

*****
GREYHAVEN -
Greyhaven
RectAngular 2000

If to compare GREYHAVEN to anything else the closest approximity would be calling it a cross between CAMEL and UK. The music, mostly soft and crawling into your mind, is progressive to the core. "Ride The Horizon", exquisite instrumental intro, sets the mood for delving into the web of synthesizers and guitars. Guitars seem to play just supporting role even when they go solo. Good contrast to the nowadays progressive which tends to get as much heavier! There's no multiple time changes, they're given up in favour of melodies. The band might follow GENESIS in this pattern, clearly seen in "Mirror My Eyes" that easily could be on "Wind And Wuthering". The problem is that quite pleasant melodies are not so bright to remember. "Shards Of Sky", the mighty epic, shows the real heart of GREYHAVEN and influence of RUSH though heaviness doesn't really fit the band - they shine in acoustic guitar spots while keyboards remind of Wakeman's new age opuses. Progressive metal fans will hardly be impressed - but those into atmosperic feel will. Strong statement.

***1/5
GREY LADY DOWN
- Demo
Grey Lady Down 1998

The band seems to specialize in the GENESIS-like epics. This live demo contains three tracks from "The Time Of Our Lives" album, each from differernt record. There is that theatrical approach to "Without A Trace" that Peter Gabriel was known for in the mid-Seventies, though guitar sounds copletely different to that of Hackett. Well, GLD really shine on-stage keeping the melody clear and bright. "A Modern Day Cavalier" is closer to Nineties, but without this cynicism of nowadays, the track being lyrical throughout, heavy-laden with keyboards and guitars.

Songs catch an ear from the very first listening - it's hard to resist this arresting interplay of the closing "12:02". The instruments may tell its own story each but altogether plus strong vocal they paint a great picture.

*****
THE FLOWER KINGS
- A selection from
the catalogue
InsideOutMusic 1999

The CD is not a commercial release though should be it. This promotional compilation, a kind of greatest hits collection, aims strictly at those like me who just feel ashamed having overlooked such a great band. OK, it's impossible to listen to all the music in the world... On the other hand, my view can be a little fresher than that of a fan which I'm staring to become.

There are five tracks, each representing one album - from "Stardust We Are" of 1997 back to "The Flower King" released in 1994. The band proves very strong in progressive traditions. While start of "In The Eyes Of The World" may have come from "Tarkus", vocals remind John Wetton singing GENESIS tunes - as he did with Steve Hackett. But GENESIS seem to have never known this attack. Comparisons appear from the organ/guitar interplay - listen to the backing tracks of "There Is More To This World". Oh, these songs are warm with no cold Gabriel theatricality. But present yet well hidden are the KINGS' rock'n'roll roots. And folky motifs, too, delivered exquisitely and atmospheric - not unlike YES canon with acoustic and slide guitars and vocal harmonies. "Magic Pie" is a classic progressive ballad with, maybe, a little soul element undepinned by piano forte, with harpsichord there is something of the BEATLES embryonic psychodelia.

"World Of Adventures" a bit heavier, more guitar-based and the guitar shows Hackett's influences. But there's a folky flute-decorated dance interpolates interesting sparse solo. "The Flower King", the earliest track, bouncing and tight as a spring, hints on the things to come. Terrific! Mighty unit.

Had FLOWER KINGS appeared fifteen years earlier, MARILLION could have been just a second rate GENESIS substitute.

*****
JOHN WETTON -
Nomansland
Giant Electric Pea 1999

Of all John Wetton's live album this one is the best, mostly due to the great balance of electricity and acoustic. And the live atmosphere heard in sligtly out-of-tune in places Dave Kilminster's guitar. Ah, if your counter shows 12 tracks instead of 14 listed, it's OK, all of them present - from the Vivaldi intro up to encore and even "Good evening" that John said in Russian, not Polish.

"The Last Thing On My Mind" cuts in with mighty bass you expect from John's records. It's this track that sets the mood, not intro. How modest yet powerful "Last Thing" is with every musician easily playing his part for all to enjoy. Three-voice a capella start marks a different approach to ASIA's "Soul Survivor", sung very relaxed. And yes, there IS that keyboards spot in the middle you may worry about. Martin Orford of IQ and JADIS fame knows his business very well. He's even given a proper solo number - as every band member. Martin's "Tatras" shows his influences and sounds much like old days Wakeman. I'd love to have the whole album of stuff like that.

Orford's flute sparkles in CRIMSON's "Book Of Saturday" perfectly complementing Wetton's acoustic. In the same manner "Emma" is done with the line that gave this album its title. A gentle piece, very close to the "Arkangel" version. As a contrast, "In The Dead Of Night" sounds heavy as in the UK days, but there's a little of the song's jazzy feel retained now, though Kilminster does his best on solo. Dave's an amazing player shining in his and Orford's acoustic "The Birth Of Igor" and, earlier, in "Bygosh!!".

Don't know this one? Instrumental based on guitar supported by cymbals, then keyboards get in and you start recognizing the "Easy Money" riff. The band goes back to CRIMSON's basics while there's no frenetic improvisation. And Fripp never was keen to rely on acoustic guitar as well. Is "Rendezvous 6:02", the only song present on every Wetton's live CD, played by two pianos? Looks like it is. Did I tell you Martin's great? Nothing new to that ballad - it just can't get any better.

"After All" - a fitting grand finale, quiet and strong. But for audience's sake band gives another spin to "Starless", with guitar decorating familiar tune with new frill. And here's one more classic, John plays acoustic guitar and sings "The Night Watch" in the most impressive way he ever did.

A highly recommended album - even for those who never heard neither Wetton, nor any of the thousand bands he was in.

*****
BIGELF -
Closer To Doom
Record Heaven 1997

It's not metal as it may seem. Yes, there is a hard edge but to the same extent as in URIAH HEEP output. "Sgt. Pepper"-like harmonies make the songs very catchy yet psychedelic. BIG ELF is a band of KULA SHAKER kind, deeply rooted in late Sixties. So the heaviness as in, "Change", comes directly from THE KINKS, the source that feeded THE RAMONES as well. Sitar effects of "Crazy" remind of the pre-ZEP YARDBIRDS while vocal is very Lennon-esque.

Sometimes ELF lack energy but it's just a mix method. SABBATH's influences could easily be traced in "Frustration" - especially in Iommi-ish solo - and Blackmore and Lord are responsible for "Salvation" instrumental storm. In the title track the band gets heavy, closer to, er, doom and goes off the track.

Four bonus tracks of rare stuff make a good addition to the very short album, that teases but not feeds enough.

****
BIGELF -
Money Machine
Record Heaven 2000

Line-up dicreased, quality increased. The title track begins with "Schizoid Man" riff and there are many CRIMSON codas as in "Ironheel" . That late Sixties psychedelia of "Closer To Doom" remains intact though melodies very elusive now with Frippian notes throughout. Vocals on this album are too forced and overlaid with effects which partly impairs the impression. But altogether "Machine" sounds good, music became more intricated than on the first one and guitar/organ interplay is even wilder.

"Sellout" melts progressive and classic hard rock hooks quite good while "Neuropsychopatic Eye" is pure "Walrus meets Crimson King" thing. The same goes for catchy "(Another) Nervous Breakdown)" released as a single.

"Death Walks Behind You" hardly adds something new to the ATOMIC ROOSTER's classic song but if this version helps to turn headbangers to Vince Crane's combo... "The Bitter End" appears to be good for closing the album but, again, lack of bright melody makes it a bit bitter.

****
BLACK SABBATH -
Black Mass
NMC Music 1999

Needless to say that this mini album is a must have for every classic hard rock fan, not to say SAB-obsessive one. The first reason is that there are just four official live albums, two by original line up with the earliest one recorded in 1973. "Black Mass" comes from 1970, from the interim between "Black Sabbath" and "Paranoid" albums and features "Black Sabbath" from debut, two tracks, "Paranoid" and "Iron Man", from the upcoming release and... Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes". The tracks were recorded at the Beat Club, Germany.

The foursome sound here very fresh with Ozzy in top form, belting out their classics at full throttle. By the way, what now about the story that "Paranoid" was composed in the last minute prior to album's coming to press? All the lyrics are already there while guitars parts in places go somehow different. "Shoes" is a big surprise as SABBATH very rarely did pure rock'n'roll - and here's Oz improvises with the words he always forgets. And Tony is just great in these Scotty Moore guitar loops.

The CD is enhanced with video footage of the "Mass" and the booklet sports rare pictures - one with moustacheless Iommi.

*****

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