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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dead Space 2

The last time we left engineer Isaac Clarke, he was on a repair mission to find out what were the problems on the USG Ishimura. When he was on board the ship, something went horribly wrong. But he had something important aboard the ship, Nicole Brennan, the love of his life. He tried to find her and get Nicole out of the ship, but what he saw in the ship was death, chaos, religious insanity, and the Marker. The ship was infected with this man-made device and it could be used to stop the necromorphs and the destruction. Everything went to hell in a hand basket including Nicole who committed suicide to escape the chaos. Even though Isaac was the only survivor left, the nightmare still haunts him three years after.

In the first Dead Space, Isaac was running errands for everybody, this time in the sequel, he is calling the shots. He isn’t a bombastic and pretentious superhero. He’s almost like a real person and the hallucinations continue to follow him to build up a magnetic mystery that follows him when you let him go to another direction and he’s got a voice done brilliantly by Gunner Wright. So you are not going hear do one-line movie quotes, but you can get the feel that the memories still haunt Isaac.

When I was playing Dead Space 2, I was asking myself, What the hell happened aboard the Ishimura? What he was doing those three years alone on his ship? And Why is dead girlfriend mighty pissed off at him? It becomes almost like a 2-part play that features an explosive finale in which is featured in a 2-disc format. Isolation is featured throughout the first 17-minutes and the scenes show in mystery and thriller.

As Isaac’s adventure in the Ishimura would be the last thing on his mind, his adventure’s on the Sprawl was just the beginning. Dead Space 2 is one of the most heart-stopping yet mind-boggling games I’ve enjoyed playing. The music that Jason Graves brings to the table is eerie, epic, and dramatic as he is in the footsteps of Profokiev, Stravinsky, Varese, and Borgo. Everytime you would hear Graves composition, it gives you a jump out of your seat sort of similar like Psycho and The Exorcist. Music plays an important role into the Dead Space franchise and featuring rumbling horn sections, dramatic string quartets, and different time-changes, it is worth the wait.

The sequel takes place three years after the events of the game and Isaac is aboard the Sprawl. The Sprawl is a space station that was built on Titan to be home for children going to school, people starting families, or take place in Unitology. But when there’s a new Marker, the infection got a lot worse. Which meant you have to fight your way through the Puker who would spray poisonous vomit, the Pack which look like fucked-up kids ready to tear Isaac’s body limb by limb, and not to mention one scene in where you are in the Elementary school where a teacher explodes after hugging the necromorph baby too much, you’ve got to give kudos to EA and Viscreal, that is another fucked-up scene that would make you say, “How the hell did they get away with it?!” Because they pushed the envelope a lot further than what we imagined.

Not only the Necromorphs are terrifying, I felt that Isaac lets them know he’s not afraid anymore. The monster’s weren’t slow like in the first one, but this time, they are faster and strong. Shooting off a limb and using kinesis and stabbing them either in the head or in the stomach to knock them over the wall which would be a perfect place for a hunting trophy for Isaac’s living room. There was one scary moment in the elementary I forgot to mention. You go inside this Auditorium and the eerie carnival music which pays homage to the Bioshock franchise, really gives you a creepy atmosphere on and that’s where you as the player realizes, “okay in about three seconds, I’m going to be killed one way or the other because I want to get the hell out of this damn place.” And then, swarms of the pack come charging and you shoot or punch them to get out of Isaac’s way.

I have to give kudos that the team and Steve Papoutsis has done, I imagine them thinking to themselves, we got something real and to please the fans and see where the Dead Space franchise would lead to them. But a little criticism won’t hurt Dead Space 2. The game is amazing and well done, but killing a Necromorph by using a lot of ammo would hurt big time for the player and finds out what to do next. When I was playing the game, I would sometimes use Kinesis most of the time while using stasis to cut off a limb and then using the kinesis and impaling their heads toward the wall or blast them out in space by shooting a window as they fly out but shooting the emergency door means you’re home safe, if you are very careful, but please watch what you shoot when you are at the disturbing atmosphere of the Church of Unitology not to mention the promos and the praises for founder Michael Altman.

I have played the game twice already and I’m about play it again. The multiplayer on the other hand, where players get to play as either Human or a Necromorph, is almost like a roller-coaster ride to hell. It’s team vs. team like a horrific boxing match in the realms of Clive Barker and Dario Argento as if they teamed up together to write a storyline for the multiplayer. I had fun playing both characters. The necromorphs which either it’s a packer or a disgusting foe makes it a disturbing momentum and a dark sense of humor Each point whether you work as a team to get 100 or 75 points are amazing. I reached level two in the game. So even though I’m not a wild fan of the multiplayer concept, I really enjoyed playing it.

Dead Space 2 is for me game of the year for 2011 and again disturbing, beautiful, and plot twists that will keep you guessing until the very end. Gunner Wright brings amazing talent to give Isaac a voice and even though I had mixed opinions of Isaac having a voice while he was a mute character in the first game, but his voice is spot-on. Not only Gunner brings a surprise performance of Isaac, but he goes inside the character while Tanya Clarke (no pun intended) who’s filling in for Iyari Limon, brings a bone-chilling yet sinister voice of Nicole’s darker side to taunt Isaac as she is ready to attack Isaac wherever he goes, she follows him to get revenge for leaving her on the Ishimura to die.

This is a great game and Isaac’s story is just begun. Let’s hope Viscreal and EA decide to tell the whole story of Isaac’s life from his rough childhood, meeting Nicole, his hatred of Unitology, and what happened after the events at Aegis 7. I hope they have something up their sleeves for Isaac Clarke.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Friday, January 21, 2011

The top 20 reissues and new music of 2010

I’ve read Classic Rock Presents Prog’s new issue and their choice of 2010. It’s very hard to pick a favorite album that the magazine has done. Music is very important and there’s something in the limelight that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve always been a music person when I buy Prog or Symphonic Metal through various websites and online like: iTunes, Kinesis, Doug Larson Imports, Cargo Music, and The Laser’s Edge. I've always been an avid reader of Classic Rock Magazine and the Prog issues and I thought to myself, "Let me pay tribute for the top 20 choices for 2010." These guys know the music and the score of up-and-coming prog bands that are coming out of the woodwork.

There’s some people who argue, bitch, and bicker and would say, “No that album should be number one of 2010!” Since hearing music when I was a young kid in the 1980s and throughout the 1990s while getting away from the shit of Nu-Metal, Boy Bands, Country Music, and godforsaken Rap music, I was always the outsider at school. But enough of my bullshit let’s get down to business.

So to start things off, as a tribute and an homage to Classic Rock Presents Prog, here are the top 20 choices for new bands, DVDs, and reissues.

1. King Crimson – In The Wake of Poseidon/Islands [Panegyric]
2. Supertramp – Breakfast in America [Deluxe Edition] [A&M]
3. Pure Reason Revolution – Hammer & Anvil [Superball]
4. District 97 – Hybrid Child [The Laser’s Edge]
5. Tarja – What Lies Beneath [Spinefarm]
6. PFM – Reissues [Esoteric]
7. Rush – Beyond The Lighted Stage [Banger Films]
8. Entropia – Sirenia [Self-Released]
9. Matt Stevens – Ghost [Self-Released]
10. Panic Room – Satellite [Firefly]
11. Machiavel – Jester/Mechanical Moonbeams [Esoteric]
12. Mandalaband I & II – Resurrection [Legend]
13. Aphrodite’s Child – End of the World/It’s Five O’Clock [Esoteric]
14. BunChakeze – Whose Dream? [Self-Released]
15. Magenta – Home [The Complete 2-CD Edition] [Tigermoth]
16. Magenta – Seven [Special Edition] [Tigermoth]
17. Wigwam – The Lucky Golden Stripes and Starpose [Esoteric]
18. Touchstone – Live in the USA East Coast West Coast [Heavy Right Foot]
19. Fields – Fields [Esoteric]
20. Necromandaus – Orexis of Death & Live [Rise Above Relics]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Machiavel - Mechanical Moonbeams

Described as one of the most important progressive rock bands to come out of Belgian in the late ‘70s, Machiavel was formed in 1974 by Roland De Greef and Marc Ysaye after leaving their band Moby Dick and brought guitarist Jack Roskam and keyboardist Albert Letecheur and formed the band naming the group after a 15th century Italian philopsher. With two CD reissues seven years ago, the album, Mechanical Moonbeams, has finally received the Esoteric treatment with an amazing package, liner notes by Wouter Bessels, and two bonus tracks.

Machiavel’s third album to the follow up Jester, sees the band moving forward into a commercial direction. Mechanical Moonbeams was the last album for them as Punk and Disco was coming in like a rumbling volcano waiting to erupt and it meant for Machiavel that it was time for a change, but here on the album, it was more Symphonic Hard Rock and knew that this was going to be a huge hit in the European Market. This was a huge pressure for the band to build on the record sales and received critical acclaim by the time the album came out and started to experiment hit after hit with songs like the acoustic folk crisp, Rope Dancer, you can tell they were heavily influenced by Genesis’ early days.

Machiavel were also making great songs that becoming singles like the melodic turned mellotron-riff hard rocker done by Letecheur on After The Crop and having Mario Guccio’s voice turn from Jon Anderson of Yes to James “J.Y.” Young of Styx, but they were putting classical music, guitar layered sound, and songs that relate into the realm of Yes worked out well. I can hear the influences alongside Yes and the band listened and researched on bands like: ELP, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull were doing and decide to give it a push. Here on Mechanical Moonbeams, the album is like a well-baked cake that deserves the cherry on top of the icing.

Two of the bonus tracks that the band recorded for the sessions never made it to the final release of the album. Wind of Life and I’m Not a Loser, almost could have been a part of the album. Wind is a very atmospheric-medieval ghost-like melody that seems twisted while I’m Not a Loser represents the Glam-Prog sound of Be Bop Deluxe’s Bill Nelson’s songwriting. The two compositions neither went on Moonbeams, but it proves to work with a surround quality of momentum.

Beyond The Silence, the opening 6-minute track, features Jean-Paul Devaux’s guitar passages, Albert’s keyboard passages that goes through various time changes as he takes the Synth for a drive in the highway while drummer Marc Ysaye follows him wherever he goes and this is not a bad thing after all. Albert’s keyboard playing is soaring and dazzling at the same time. There’s a mixture of Keith Emerson and Patrick Moraz as if he could have been Belgian’s answer to the kings of Progressive Keyboard solos.

While the Symphonic word always follows me where ever I go to, it takes me to a new direction with a band that sounds good. Though in the footsteps of Yes as if they teamed up with Supertramp, the magic is there in the album and Beyond the Silence is almost like a high drive towards the highway and throughout the piece, you can hear the influence of Starcastle’s pomp rock sound and lets the listener know that they still got the ingredients in there for those mind-boggling keyboard solos to give it a real punch and this is a fine toast for Prog Keyboards to go apeshit crazy.

Meanwhile, the beginning of American Pomp Rock suddenly comes into the background and becomes the majority to save the day. With a melodic space rock passage that Albert does, it transforms into a heavy metal rockin’ power house that gives it a huge juice on Summon Up Your Strength. It’s a strange ingredient. Heavy Metal and Prog? Why the hell not! The late ‘70s beginnings of Progressive Metal suddenly comes out of nowhere almost as if Led Zeppelin had teamed up with Yes to work on Close To The Edge. Strange track but perfect to the fierce-like length.

Rebirth is another beautiful track clocking in at 6-minutes. At first it sounds like an AOR passage, but then turns into a various time changing classical rocker as Albert’s concerto classical piano sets up the pace in a Road Runner mode for the band as the mellotron comes in for the dancers to go beyond the tango and create a twisted dance for Machiavel’s music. Pastoral Eerie Acoustic Folk Melody comes back into the picture again. This time on Mary, it’s Jean-Paul’s acoustic fingerpicking guitar work and Albert’s spooky synth sound and Mario’s Gabriel-resemblance vocals that puts the Genesis sound into the picture as if this piece was recorded in an English Cottage to pay tribute to British Folk sound.

The final track, The Fifth Season, a 7-minute dramatic yet sinister introduction done by Piano, Floyd-esque guitar sound, and drums set up the scene as if it’s a murder investigation. Then comes the spoken-word narration before the vocals come in and Albert’s twilight zone synth’s come into the picture for the first 4-minutes before the upbeat sound comes in like driving through the speed limit as Albert comes in for the keyboard passages while Marc’s drumming follows him as Mario’s screeching vocals comes back in as Machiavel’s sing to the soaring sky for a lukewarm ending.

Of course, Machiavel started to decline with the pop sound after the release of Mechanical Moonbeams in 1978, surprising the critics and the music lovers since forming in 1974, packing the symphonic sounds from the 5-piece band that could have been the next Genesis. And while Albert had passed away in 2004, the music and the band might give us a question to plead with them to back to their roots of the first three albums and make it sound like it’s 1976 all over again. Mechanical Moonbeams is a wonderful lost gem of the European Progressive Rock sound of the ‘70s. Give Esoteric Recordings a round of applause for the reissue they worked on.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Touchstone - Live in the USA: East Coast West Coast

It’s always considered that some fellow record collector’s always prefer the live versions of the song on the album instead of the studio version. There are perfect examples like: Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan, The Who’s Live at Leeds, Rush’s All The World’s a Stage, UFO’s Strangers in the Night, and Pink Floyd’s Is There Anybody Out There: The Wall Live 1980-1981. Now with Touchstone, we got to give them a huge amount of credit for doing this. This 2-CD set was recorded back in 2009 at the time the band was promoting their second album, Wintercoast and performing at two small auditorium shows. One in Philadelphia (RoSfest) in the East and California (CalProg) in the West, the band shows no sign of stopping.

It is very exciting to hear Touchstone live from beginning to end, but it shows why the band not only are giving the audience a surprising reaction and mind-blowing experience in what you are about to hear, but also seeing the direction they are going through as this was drummer’s Alasdair Melville’s last performance with the band before departing back in 2010. This is also an emotional farewell for Alasdair as he gives in the live recording a heartfelt performance on the drums on both discs while Kim Seviour, who has filled in the space of Liz, isn’t just a leader of the gang, but she and Rob along with the band members work together as a team.

The arena rock flavor is back in the table from the flourishing keyboards of Rob Cottingham, bassist Paul Moorghen, and Prog’s answer to Eddie Van Halen meets Robert Fripp, guitarist Adam Hodgson. They built a strong force that puts progressive rock mixing it up with stadium rock in the atmosphere which makes Touchstone the new kings and queens of the 21st century of the revival of Arena Stadium Rock. Not to mention opening last year’s performance at Classic Rock’s High Voltage festival. On Live in the USA, which is a flaming experience, and gives the band members to break free, they’re not here to show off.

Rob Cottingham’s keyboards brings a whooshing magic carpet experience to bring prog rock back from the dead while Hodgson’s guitar shreds like a razor blade through various time changes and Alasdair’s drumming is in the realm of Jazz and Hard Rock. Like Neil Peart meets Billy Cobham, he gives the energy fuel a huge run at over 600 miles per hour. It’s very vivid in where the live recordings fit the atmosphere inside the auditorium to a huge extraction. When you hear the live versions of the tracks, you never know what to expect. You have the explosive ‘80s hard rock punch of New Prog the blazing version of Strange Days, the mini-rock opera to Alice in Wonderland on The Mad Hatter’s Song, lukewarm ballads of: Voices and Solace, and the resemblance of Power Metal on the two part-epic, Discordant Dreams / The Beggar’s Song, that shows they are going for a roller-coaster ride that the crowd will never forget.

Kim’s voice is unbelievable. She’s really changed a lot since Discordant Dreams back in 2007. She isn’t trying to be center of attention, nor being a rock star like Jim Morrison, she is almost like a conductor that brings her vocals and conducting the band to follow her where her voice and the time signatures might change, where to stop, and knows that she roots for the band members as if they are behind her all the way. And adding a guest musician like guitarist John Mitchell, you got yourself a huge weekend. John pays a huge homage to Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing on the explosive cover of Tears for Fears view of the destructive post-apocalyptic hit single, Mad World. It sounds almost as if Rush could have used this track for the Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves sessions, but it packs a mean punch.

Like I’ve mentioned before, Touchstone are the next Rush, this is one hell of a double live album and shows the band shining through the high heavens. Let’s see what they have up their sleeve for the third album.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

District 97 - Hybrid Child

Despite being an American Idol finalist in Season 6 (and let me say this is the last time you hear me utter those two words), Leslie Hunt could definitely bring the female progressive rock sound to another level when she joined the band, District 97 back in 2007. Her vocals fit the atmosphere in District 97 as if she’s the answer to Jon Anderson and Annie Haslam of Yes and Renaissance, but adding the obscure prog structures for this up-and-coming band, let’s say it sounds like it’s 1973 all over again. Since forming in 2006, it’s quite evidential that District 97 is just getting a head start and with their debut album, Hybrid Child, they have quite a head start for them to go retro for their love of ‘70s prog music.

What is really surprising is once you put the headphones on and listen to the album from start to finish, is just how the strength the debut is, but when you carry the aspect of the progressive elements together on Hybrid Child. While some of the listeners are going to have mixed opinions because of Leslie Hunt’s vocal arrangements, including myself. At first, I was a little skeptical because of District 97 featuring an American Idol finalist, but my brain said to me “Zack, why don’t you give it a shot and take a few listens?” And I did, and after listening to the album about three times, I realized that something is going on here and something special that lies beneath this up-and-coming band.

Even though it may not be your cup of coffee and you may or may not like District 97, but that doesn’t matter, so let’s stop the bullshit and get straight to the review. On Hybrid Child, the band has a symphonic rock sound in growing community of prog-geektacular with a vengeance. Much of the album has a structure of Yes meets Rush meets Heart. I Don’t Want To Wait Another Day, opens with a militant pounding section on the drums done by Jonathan Schang in his Mike Portnoy-esque rumble, resembles Dream Theater’s Scenes From a Memory-era before Kelijn’s thunderous violin solo takes over, plus some thunderous guitar rumble as if it sounds like a bullet train that is going 450 miles per hour as Jim Tashijan just lets his playing go like a flaming fire while the melodic midsection comes in for the band to take a chill pill to create a moody ballad while it heads back into the race track for a mind-boggling finale.

The prog-pop single, I Can’t Take You With Me, which you can find on YouTube, sees Leslie Hunt rocking out with her vocalization as keyboardist Rob Clearfield does his Rick Wakeman and Jordan Rudess-esque keyboard solo as if it sounds like it was left off the Fragile sessions, but he is like an energetic robot that is charged and ready to go while Tashijan and Schang follows him with his improvisation as if they’re thinking to themselves “We go something here with this.” The batteries are charged and revved up and ready to go on The Man Who Knows Your Name.

At first, it sounds like a resemblance of Rush’s modern sound on Moving Pictures meets ELP’s Trilogy before Kelijn’s comes into the picture as she is paying tribute to Curved Air and Wolf’s violinist, Darryl Way. She is doing a lot of Concertos and paying a tribute to Vivaldi’s thunderous classical composition. The beast has been unleashed from its cage while Clearfield comes in create a disturbing force in the field with his keyboard solo as the band go into a sinister yet mysterious territory for the listener to go batshit crazy. The instrumental track for the first four minutes are jaw-dropping as the album’s highlight, as Leslie comes in with her haunting vocals in which her and the members create electrical power and soaring melodies with a driving riff.

You have to admit that Leslie Hunt has finally moved away from the American Idol scenery and looks like that she is about to give it the middle finger and let them know, “I’m going to show you how I do music in a different way not in an MTV way!” Again while she resembles Ann Wilson of Heart, she definitely carries the spirit of the early Yes as her masterpiece. As for the band members, you have to give them 100% credit as well. This isn’t Leslie Hunt and District 97, both of them work together as a team and conduct and compose themselves in odd time changes, where the note is going to land and see where the music will lead to them.

But Hybrid Child isn’t just a progressive rock album and the first three tracks that will blow you away, but there’s the symphonic rock sound meets heavy metal in a Yes’ The Yes Album meets Metallica’s And Justice For All on Termites which is a high voltage rocker while it leads up to the ten-part epic, Mindscan. Here, District 97 go beyond the 20-minute compositions as if to say the Prog isn’t dead. The band go through New Age atmospheric music, haunting classical pieces, Avant-Garde vocalization in the realm of Frank Zappa’s early days with the Mothers of Invention on Examination, time-changing structures of Progressive Metal, Vocal workout through the piece into a medieval rock ‘70s sound, homage to King Crimson, and add all that up, you got yourself an epic that is mind-blowing. The reaction is breathtaking and explosive.

Hybrid Child is almost like an album that is just getting started and the same thing with District 97. Leslie is moving away from the mainstream and into the progressive indie rock sound is a perfect combination. So let’s hope they can come up with a better follow up, but their debut album shows how much they are getting a huge following in the underground prog festival circuit, but made one hell of a debut of 2010.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Locomotive - We Are Everything You See

“I am everything you see and what is more/You will never see me in around at anybody’s door/I am positioned to the wind and what is more/I am father of a thousand children mother/Of a thousand million more.” The opening line from Locomotive’s Mr. Armageddon from their only debut album, We Are Everything You See released in 1970, illustrates the views of the political violent protests and the civil rights movement in the late ‘60s with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, it was a difficult time and for a band that could have been huge and adding structures of Jazz, Classical Music, and an homage to Mussorgsky’s epic Pictures at an Exhibition, it goes to show how Locomotive and Norman Haines were one of the most unsung bands of the late ‘60s.

41 years later since it was released in February 1970, it is considered one of the most hidden gems of the progressive music scene and Haines should be very proud of the work he has done creating this unbelievable mind-blowing album that deserves the attention and the recognition it finally deserves. Since it was out of print as the reissue label Eclectic Discs had filed for bankruptcy in 2007, Mark Powell decided it was time to give the album another chance with Esoteric Recordings and marking the 40th anniversary of Locomotive’s We Are Everything You See. This is an album that you need to take notice and take a few listens to hear and why this band was ahead of their time.

Originally released in the Parlaphone label which was home to the Beatles in 1970, We Are Everything You See is a again a mix of Psych/Prog mixed in the Orchestral Jazz Fusion format and you got yourself an album that renders of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper-era as if it was the early beginnings of symphonic prog. Beginning with the beautiful Beethoven-sque Overture as it segues into the single Mr. Armageddon. The mixture of Jazz and Soul is perfect combinations for Norman Haines as he creates a psych-soul sound on the organ while the band members including the saxophonists, bring a dramatic structure to the piece. Mick Hincks doesn’t get enough credit for his amazing bass lines including the introduction on Now is the End / The End is When as he is doing an early reminiscent of Greg Lake and Paul Jackson of Herbie Hancock fame while the booming sax section comes in with the insanity of the disorder on the tritone with Lay Me Down Gently.

The driven composition of Nobody Asked You to Come is a powder keg that features Haines and Hincks creating a moody and dark atmosphere with some cryptic passages which are hypnotic and could keep on going for only 5-minutes more. You Must Be Joking, which was released as a B-side to Mr. Armageddon features some of the dark elements to the A-side. It deals with taking your own life not to mention the lyric “What a peculiar twist/when she cut her wrist.” You have to admit Haines had balls and pushed the envelope to deal with this topic on the suicide watch, but this is a powerful and emotional number that is a wake-up call to people who are thinking of taking their own lives.

A Day in Shining Armour has the elements of Stax and Motown funk as if they created a soul-prog rocker that features a wah-wah organ, funky bass rhythm, and Bob Lamb’s driven drum section not to mention the eerie Mellotron that creates a sinister atmosphere in the finale. Now we come to the epic on the story of the Loves of Augustus Abbey. The first part is Haines and Organ singing as if he’s giving a message to the service in the gothic cathedral while telling about Augustus as it segues into the crystal string quartet beauty Rain which features Mick Hincks taking the lead vocals over. It’s quite interesting to hear this track as if it was written for the movie Bullitt starring Steve McQueen, but it packs a wild punch and dynamic while melodically eclectic.

The second part of Augustus Abbey has a pounding percussion and homage to the Move’s psychedelic-era while seguing to their cover tribute to The United States of America, a psychedelic experimental band that released their only debut album in the late sixties, Coming Down / Love Song for the Dead Che is very much in the realm of The Moody Blues song Peak Hour as the late Chris Wood of Traffic comes in to give a beautiful Flute passage. It’s very twisted, but normal at the same time as it gives a flourish finale as the third and closing part of Augustus Abbey gives us a dance carousel horn section for a quick second and then closing the service off with a bang as we come to the finale, Time of Light and Darkness.

In the closing song, the piece has a time signature of 4/4 and ¾ while very much upbeat-tempo jazz rock as if Mike Pinder was a session musician for Locomotive and created a swirling vertigo sound on the mellotron as Haines lets it rip for a bluesy organ solo for one big closing while Hincks and Lamb follow Norman with some magnetic touch and power. The booklet which features liner notes by Sid Smith and an interview with Norman Haines, it has unseen photos and how the band started and broke up. It’s an improvement that Esoteric went back and set the record straight and this time they got it right.

The bonus tracks are a real treat as the mono version of Mr. Armageddon features a new introduction than what was on the album itself while There’s Got To Be a Way could have the prom and homecoming dancers go batshit crazy. The last three tracks: I’m Never Gonna Let You Go, Movin’ Down The Line, which has an early reminiscent of Free, and Roll Over Mary, sees Locomotive going into a pop direction as John Peel played these tracks for his radio show. You could tell and hear that Norman Haines was getting a little tired of the pop sound and moving away from that into what was become of the debut album.

It wasn’t until Norman left the band to start The Norman Haines Band releasing Den of Iniquity while the others formed The Dog That Bit People. Should you have a quick understanding on how Locomotive were one of the most underrated bands to come out before fading away. An underground independent record yet unsung and superb reissue done by Esoteric Recordings and let’s hope they get a chance to reissue Aphrodite’s Child’s 666.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Touchstone - Mad Hatters EP

It seems that Touchstone are now ready for the big Arena’s now thanks to their performance on the Prog Stage at High Voltage last year and I think they are getting the achievement they finally deserve and let everyone know that Arena Rock is not dead. Now just before Kim Seviour and Alasdair Melville joined the band, there was Liz Clayden and Simon Cook in the original EP, and this is their only debut before departing for other projects. Mad Hatters EP is a well-made product that the band would give before becoming what they are today.

Sure it sounds interesting and Liz’s voice sounds almost like Kim, but this is worth checking out and seeing how the evidence is in the music, not in the pudding. Misguided Fool starts off with a shofarish sound on the keyboards done by Rob Cottingham that is similar to Supersister’s Iskander album before going straight into a New Age atmospheric landscape and then goes into power metal territory. Interesting when you find out the moody synth sets is what you’d expect from Touchstone while the vocalization done by Liz and Roy really carry the lifting weights in the album before going straight into the Eddie Van Halen-sque sound to erupt with a mighty bang.

One Shot is a very interesting track. At times it sounds like a modern version of Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason meets Triumph’s Allied Forces, but it’s very pointed directly ahead into the Album Orientated Rock sound of the late ‘70 and early ‘80s format. You can hear Adam Hodgson doing a Neal Schon and Tommy Shaw guitar solo in the last few minutes of track as he lays it out for the drums, bass, and synth to have a Journey meets Styx sound to give it a metallic beauty of the Pomp Rock genre.

Hear Me calms the music down as it’s back to the late ‘80s-era of Floyd as Cottingham does an atmospheric introduction on his keyboards as Adam does some Gilmour-sque layered sound on his guitar. There’s a bit of The Division Bell elements in there as if they written this as a sequel to Take It Back and Keep Talking as if David was watching these guys and giving the torch to them and letting them know, it’s your turn to take the music of Floyd to the next level. And then we get into the last track, The Mad Hatter’s Song.

The Mad Hatter’s Song, you could tell that the band pay homage to Lewis Carroll’s Alice series as if it was written for a concept album of Alice in Wonderland. It starts off with a nightmarish lullaby introduction that is very creepy and disturbing as the guitar and keyboard kick it in into overdrive work as in the format of the ‘70s band, Boston. The vocals and the piano is a good notch to the Mad Hatter’s insanity as if Roy and Liz were doing a duet with each other. In the midsection, there is a child-like atmosphere as if Alice is back in Wonderland and seeing that the place she went to as a young girl has now become a dystopian world as the Red Queen is in tears and couldn’t believe what the hell has happened.

Mind you, Lewis Carroll would jump for joy with the 8-minute epic. The last 2-minutes is Liz Clayden’s moment to shine in her vocalization as guitar, drums and the sound of the mellotron gives a building edge and lets Liz give her a real sound as she goes into the instrumental-esque background as the band go into Rush’s homage to the 2112 overture for the stop and go moment before Liz gets back into gear and finishes the song off with a cannonball explosion. It’s a real powerhouse anthem and it gets your blood flowing to see where the band would go into the Prog Arena Rock format. This is some amazing stuff that every prog listener needs to get and you have to buy this and see if Touchstone could be the next Rush.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Necromandus - Orexis of Death & Live

Its unearthed gems that tell the story of a band that would have become the next Black Sabbath in the early beginnings of heavy metal. While the band gave birth to the genre, there were bands that followed in the footsteps of the doom metal heroes. You have Iron Claw, Truth & Janey, Buffalo, Jerusalem, and Necromandus. Now the question remains, who are Necromandus? Well here’s the real story about them. The story of Necromandus goes back into the late ‘60s where Sabbath members Tony Iommi and Bill Ward were a part of the Cumbria circuit where they were a Blues Rock band under the name, Mythology.

Cumbria is located in North West side of England and is the largest county in England throughout the council way in the Scottish area between Dumfries and Gumfrey in the west North Village Sea. Now back to the story of Necromandus, after Mythology broke up and Earth was formed while later becoming of what would become Black Sabbath, Tony was impressed of the band was doing and he offered to get them a record deal with Vertigo and manage the group as a way to help them out. The band released their only album in 1973 as Iommi made a guest appearance on the album. But that would not happen.

Due to Touring conflicts and bad timing, Iommi went on tour as the band fell apart and the album was shelved from Vertigo never seeing the light at the end of tunnel. Cut to 37 years later when Lee Dorrian, member of Napalm Death and founder of Rise Above Relics and Rise Above Records, the independent record label of unearthed progressive music, folk, and heavy metal, decided that it was time for the album to give it the green light that it deserves. The influences of Doom and early Progressive Metal can be heard in this. The album, Orexis of Death is the 1970’s underground favorite of early hard rock, a combination of Possessed’s Exploration meets Wishbone Ash’s Argus.

The spooky atmospheric acoustic gong hammer on low fret-by-fret intro on Mogidismo Part I, is very disturbing as it goes straight into the high voltage power force of Nightjar as the guitar goes into a vicious mode with its raw and fierce momentum by guitar, bass, and drums doing a stop and go section. As the guitar comes up with a violent riff, the drums and bass go in for a bullet attack mode that sounds like a gunshot almost as if they are at the O.K. Corral to see who go down in a blaze at glory at High Noon. You can tell that they are not fooling around with this as if they are the right band to come up with some excellent ideas while working on the song.

Then the band go into the psychedelic rock element of space with A Black Solitude that gives the band a chance to cool down with a touch of acoustic beauty that guitarist Barry Dunnery would create almost as if they had written the song that could have been a sequel to Black Sabbath moody Planet Caravan. No wonder Steve Howe of Yes got a real kick out of Barry’s guitar work as he would do a tribute to him during his career with the band. Then you have the same element in the jazz groove rhythm influence on Homicidal Psychopath giving the track a real prog influential backdrop while Stillborn Beauty is a roaring waltz hard rock explosive power.

The 6-minute Gypsy Dancer comes in with a mystical guitar work that Barry does that is almost a reflective vision of edged magnitude. Then in the midsection, he creates some unbelievable framework solos while the band follow him including the only surviving member of the band, drummer Frank Hall creates a Bill Ward meets Nick Mason drumming sound that could afford a touch of trip to the Milky Way for the last 48-seconds. The title track touches a shuffle prog metallic power as if Uriah Heep and Van Der Graaf Generator worked together to create a twisted an anthem adventure which brings the rhythm section into a drive down the highway with screaming vocals and a touch of the blues influence, hell, you got yourself a weekend as the second part finale of Mogidism closes the reprise with the hammer fret-on-fret to give it a ghostly and haunted mourning acoustic fingerpicking in the style of virtuoso guitarist Steve Hackett. But wait that’s not all!

You thought the album was done, well guess again. There are eight bonus tracks recorded live at Blackpool Casino in 1973 as they were promoting the never released album for Vertigo. This is a rare recording, even though it’s a B+ quality, it’s interesting to hear this perform in front of the audience that were headbanging or gambling their money to hit the jackpot. There’s the homage to Iggy & The Stooges in a unreleased live version of Judy Green Rocket that would have you throw away your Glam Metal shit away as Still Born Beauty which neatly carries the ¾ time signature as if John Coltrane wrote a heavy metal version of My Favorite Things as if it was done by Budgie.

And the 6-minute super hero rocker that would have Stan Lee bowed to his knees on with the elements of Sabbath into the mix of Limpet Man as the five tracks that appeared on the never-before-released album still packs a punch and ruled the casino live to kick a shitload of ass onstage. You could tell why Tony Iommi was so impressed and was very pleased on what he was hearing. He knows his Heavy Metal history so well by the time you hear this. This is unearthed music like you’ve never heard it before and would give Tony and Lee a big pat on the back. Now let’s hope that Rise Above releases the unearthed Earth demoes and bringing unsung hard rock back from the grave.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Supertramp - Breakfast In America [Deluxe Edition]

As punk and the new wave scene was coming in and out to destroy in what was called, dinosaur music of the ‘70s with heavy metal and progressive music being under attack thanks to the bastardization of the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Ramones. Prog was still going strong and thanks to one band who gave punk the middle finger that gave the record a huge top charting success. Supertramp was riding high after having a breakthrough with Crime of The Century, Crisis? What Crisis?, and their masterpiece Even in the Quietest Moments. But by the time they released Breakfast In America in 1979, they hit the jackpot. 31 years later, it still sounds fresh when it was back in the late ‘70s and into 1980. You have some amazing songs written by Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies had written as if the Beatles had kid brothers.

Breakfast In America is the unbelievable masterpiece that Supertramp made as where progressive pop music suddenly begin come back from the dead. While the band had top singles from the album thanks to songs like: The Logical Song, Goodbye Stranger, the title track, and Take The Long Way Home, they were a platinum monster and were now lining stadium shows promoting the album in a big way since 1974. Now in a 2-CD Deluxe Edition format including liner notes done by MOJO’s editor-in-chief’s Phil Alexander and interviews with Bob Siebenberg, Roger Hodgson, John Helliwell, Supertramp’s manager Dave Margeson, Russell Pope who work as a concert sound engineer on the album, and Dougie Thompson describing the times working on the album and the strained relationship that the two songwriters had with each other before Roger departed in 1983 after the release of Famous Last Words.

The booklet features photos of the Breakfast tour including Kate Murtagh, who was almost 60 at the time introducing the band to the audience. And has memorabilia, magazines, black & white photos of the sessions and the concert, and promos of the album. It just goes to show why the album almost made them geek superstars.

Breakfast In America isn’t just your typical progressive pop album. You have the views of destruction of the drug scene in L.A. on Gone Hollywood, the loss of childhood innocence with The Logical Song while Goodbye Stranger brings the soul sound of Motown beauty. The homage to Randy Newman’s Sail Away-era on Casual Conversations, the AOR orientation on Just Another Nervous Wreck, the piano ballad rocker that could have been a hit single with Lord Is It Mine and the 7-minute eerie finale of Child of Vision and the harmonica haunting ballad on Take The Long Way Home can see the evidence on where the Hodgson and Davies relationship as a band was sliding down, but can work together as a team.

The second disc which is released on the Deluxe Edition is called 1979 Live Breakfast World Tour that features 12 tracks in London, Miami, and Paris. The unreleased Paris tracks never made it on the final version of their double live album at the time the band was promoting Breakfast In America, but having six tracks from the album, two from Even in the Quietest Moments, and two tracks from Crisis? What Crisis? and Crime of the Century. On the live version of The Logical Song in Wembley, you can hear audiences clapping along to the number and getting a real groove to the single as the band give the fans a real treat while the 6-minute gorgeous dazzling version of Goodbye Stranger gives you a bone-chilling feel on what they have up their sleeve. The live versions will send you back time traveling as if it’s 1979 all over again.

Since I’ve mentioned the two tracks, the second disc has the band’s most amazing three centerpieces that will make you want to go out and buy the Deluxe Edition. John Helliwell’s humorous introduction on having an English breakfast before going into the elegant waltz on the title track while they go funky on our asses with the 7-minute rocker Another Man’s Woman. Then John gives us a short 35 second ragtime clarinet introduction before introducing the audience to the band’s most acoustical love song as Roger and John create magic in the atmosphere in Paris that night with him singing the beautiful ballad Even In The Quietest Moments.

Breakfast In America was the most magnetic albums to come out of the 20th century and the last hurrah for the group who brought prog in the billboard’s pop album charts to create a perfect melody and a hit single for them. But when it came to Famous Last Words, in which they should have called it, The Last Straw instead, the band suddenly begin to crumble as partners between Hodgson and Davies who were at each others throat during the making of the last words sessions. It was then decided for Roger to leave the band to start a family and a solo career. But before he did that, he made a gentlemen’s agreement to Rick for him to use the name Supertramp for his songs and not Roger’s as he would take them with him. So it’s been a Civil War between the two and even the fans including myself consider the Roger Hodgson-era of Supertramp, it’s been a long and winding road for them. If they could bury the hatchet and do one more gig for a reunion and not a cover band for the 70-10 tour.

Mandalaband I & II - Resurrection

Among supporters including John Peel and Alan “Fluff” Freeman, it seems that Progressive Rock and the Symphonic Rock sound may have an unearthed sign of hidden treasures that deserves a lot of recognition. Could there be any surprise moments from an unknown band that finally gets the re-mastered and re-mixed treatment that it deserves? Well, the answer is yes. Mandalaband’s two albums, Mandalaband and The Eyes of Wendor which is released under the 2-CD digipack, Resurrection, it give us a welcome back treatment with the help of band member and mastermind David Rohl who went back and painstakingly restored the albums at Abbey Road Studios in 2010. While some of the prog listeners may have mixed opinions on why he did, the sound is incredible and well received by representing the theatrical and operatic material.

All put aside, Mandalaband, who was formed in the early ‘70s by Rohl as he set up a tiny studio in a farm in England in the village of Cheshire and thus began the first mark of Mandalaband (Mandalaband I). The band considered Dave Durant on lead vocals, Vic Emerson on keyboards, Ashley Mulford on guitar, John Stimpson on bass, and Tony Cresswell on drums including David himself playing keyboards. And it certainly goes to show why this band were way ahead of their time and were like composers rather than rock stars with its conceptual boundaries and with the sleeves showing pictures of the making of the albums and liner notes as well describing how the band came to be.

Released in 1975 on Chrysalis, and now in the reissue format with Legend in 2010, there are 8 tracks on the first album and three bonuses including a demo, an audition of Looking In which is Chris Wright at CBS Studios in which he signed the band, and a recording at Indigo Sound. These tracks could have been classics and achieve cult status for them. Given the operatic treatment thanks Durant’s vocal arrangements, the band could have been the next ELP.

The opening 20-minute epic, Om Mani Padme Hum, which pays tribute to the Tibetan National Anthem and an homage to the Buddhist tribes of the mantra, features a middle-eastern monk introduction to get the listener in before Durant comes in and shines through his amazing voice, as guitarist Murford lets the guitar do the talking with homages to Steve Hackett and Steve Howe’s atmospheric guitar layered sound with some piano passages that is in the realm of Keith Emerson. In the second movement, the time signatures goes into various changes with ragtime, ballad, and featuring tubular bells and dramatic tension filling the void while the keyboard just takes it beyond the symphonic realm and into something that is beyond beautiful. The third movement is a 17th century baroque ballad as Durant, Stimpson, Vic, and Cresswell just make the music sound very much in a dreamland-sque soundtrack while the climatic Fourth and final movement goes into a hard rock format that really gives it a roller-coaster ride to a new dimension.

You thought that the 20-minute epic was the landmark? Well there’s more. The explosive homage to Keith Emerson turned Nektar space rock sound is at deck with Determination which starts off with a rising crescendo and then goes into a space adventure is a thrilling experience. You have the swirling futuristic guitar solo that Ash Murford does as if he’s Roye Albrighton throughout the midsection. He shines and gives a raw energetic power to have the atmosphere on the first album.

Song For a King is a rare composition of the band going into the Swords and Sorcery-era as if the number could have been written for the game, Dungeons & Dragons. One of the more surprising tracks is Roof of the World, it has a fast tempo beat as if the band are in the realms of early Progressive Metal. It has a fantasy sound as the Tibetian monks are ready to fight for their bravery and sacrificing and fighting for glory. The closing track, Looking In, has a Canterbury Prog tribute as if Caravan were moving away from the Jazz sound into something that is orchestral. Dave Durant is doing his Richard Sinclair vocalization as the band go into a laid-back groove while it has a jazzy blues atmosphere to close the first album up. The music has a bit of the mixtures of the Symphonic, Canterbury, and Jazz, and after all a tribute to the Tibetan Buddhist anthem is not a bad idea after all. It’s twisted, but it works like a charm when you get to hear it from start to finish.

The Eyes of Wendor, Mandalaband’s (Mandalaband II) second album in 1978, took about two years to finish the album. The band recorded the second album at Strawberry Studios in 1976 where Rohl took over as a Chief Engineer of the album. And with a little help from Barclay James Harvest, 10cc, Steeleye Span, The Moody Blues, and Sad CafĂ©, you can tell that this was a project that everyone enjoyed working on. This is another concept album in the realms of a heartfelt tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The story is about a magical gemstone set in the prehistory-era. The album itself is a collector’s item and now with Rohl re-mixing and re-mastering the album is a perfect match made in heaven.

These 14 tracks on the album is a strange and mystical journey as it starts off with the Overture of the title track. It has an Irish-Classical Rock dance ballad that begins the journey off with a bang. A charming opening if you like and for me, it’s very much like a film score that is quite majestic, flowing, and soaring at the same time as if they were writing their own rock musical animated film that would have Walt Disney bowed to his knees over. The cathedral beauty of Florian’s Song enters with a prog-pop flavor thanks to 10cc’s Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman that serves as a strong fairy-tale ballad while Ride To The City carries a perverse underwater instrumental thunderous storm to search for the gem as the late Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience comes up with some incredible bass lines. He wasn’t a great bass player, but what he did here was to create a moody tone on the instrumental including Rohl, Close, and the late Woolly Wolstenholme helping out as a team with intensity.

Then we get into the twisted instrumental composition, Almar’s Tower. On this you have Norman Barratt speaking in tongue on the voice box guitar to give a spooky atmosphere as the percussion sounds almost like a Tim Burton film and as if the piece was recorded in the jungle. Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span fame brings his angelic vocals on Like The Wind. Now it has this homage of the Annie Haslam-era of Renaissance Prologue sound, but the mixture of celtic and rumbling roar of the chours helping Maddy out as the group and her fly into a cutting edge of amazing electric spark. The Tempest is a snarling droning atmospheric destruction view of hell as Kim Turner sounds like he is in an psychiatric ward screaming out like a lunatic while hallucinating and playing Russian roulette as it segues into the calmness symphonic ballad as Justin Hayward sends chill down your spine with the emotional tear drop on Dawn of a New Day.

Depature From Cathilias is probably in the realm of militant rock by the drums and unique acoustical ballad. To most prog and readers, the heroes leave from their hometown by ship from carthilias and heading towards the mighty sea of Wendor. Sounds very much like Lord of the Rings to you right? It could have been easily inspired by the trilogy and have a cutting edge sound. Now we’re back into the realm of 10cc. My god! Looks like Mandalaband could have become a prog-pop band all of a sudden thanks to Graham Gouldman’s vocalization. Even the soaring keyboard mellotron beauty of Woolly and jazz fusion funk synth of David Rohl. Mandalaband really push the envelope a bit further, but they still have a shining spirit in their hands, but the spooky atmosphere keeps on going.

The Witch of Waldow Wood comes to Mandalaband’s disturbing and moody tracks and is probably in the realm of bombastic proportions in a good way. It takes two guitarists to create a mind-boggling solo thanks to John Lees and Steve Broomhead creating almost a BJH tribute. You could hear the rock opera boundaries in there, but they have guts and soul in their bodies for the field of fantasy. The classical rock punch is back in full swing with the time changing attitude on Silesandre are up with the Queen rides her horse and saving the world to return the gem and stay in the hours of twilight to head on home before all hell breaks loose.

Musically, the instrumentals come into full swing for the most part mourning and sadness. A fine orchestral score on Aenord’s Lament soars into the death of the hero as the choir mourns Aenord’s fight for bravery and into the listener’s head setting the scenery while Funeral of the King is a dramatic hard rock epic brings the procedures as Phil Chapman’s sax solo sets a funeralistic wail on his instrument on the 3/3 time signature. It’s almost a flourishing waltz as the closing finale, Coronation of Damien, lets the listener know that everything’s okay that the war is over and won and closing it with a progressive celtic dynamic yet explosive finale.

The three bonus tracks which were recorded at Indigo Sound in 1975 are demos of the three tracks. There is the orchestral waltz version of the title track while Dave Durant brings his early reminiscent of Pavarotti to The Witch of Waldow with an impressive score. Silesandre sounds very much pomp rock in this demo as Ashley Mulford just let’s it rip with the Sword and Sorcery rocker boundary. There is a lot to offer of the underrated band’s symphonic sound, although there is a chance to get your head flowing with more of the lost symphonic prog bands than Yes did in their hey-day.

What Resurrection does is to bring Mandalaband back from the dead and see what the road may lay ahead for them. Are we ever going to see maybe an animated story rock opera of The Eyes of Wendor one day in the future? Will they come back and do a reunion and create more concept albums that will have Prog fans jumping for joy? The answer, we don’t know. There is something special from underground story complex-songs in what Mandalaband have, a greater story for them to tell us in the musical boundaries. Who knows what the Eyes of Wendor have in store for us.