Pär Lindh Project – Time Mirror (2010)

ParLindh_TimeMirror4 out of 5 Stars!

A heavily Yes-influenced release, especially when it comes to the generous use of pipe organ and other keyboard/synth sounds ala Rick Wakeman. The vocalist, as well, has a timbre and delivery not unlike Jon Anderson’s, therefore fans of Yes will likely find as much to like about this album as I do.

Solid musicianship and creativity all around. I’m looking forward to delving into the band’s back catalogue to see what else they have to offer.

Birth Control – An Overview

BirthControl

Albums In My Collection

– Backdoor Possibilities
– Birth Control
– Count On Dracula
– Deal Done At Night
– Getting There
– Hoodoo Man
– Increase
– Operation
– Plastic People
– Rebirth
– Titanic
– Two Worlds

An Overview

Anytime a band has released material for as many years as Birth Control (formed in Germany back in 1968) one would expect a great deal of inconsistency in its sound/style, especially when countless personnel changes within the band occur and music trends change globally. Therefore, for fans of Prog-Rock unfamiliar with this band, be prepared when delving into its vast catalogue that the quality and material vary greatly from decade to decade.

For me, most of the band’s early releases, its “classic/glory period”—especially the albums Operation (1971), Hoodoo Man (1972), Plastic People (1975), Backdoor Possibilities (1976), and Increase (1977)—were great slices of Heavy Prog-Rock. In those days, the band had a profound Deep Purple/Bloodrock/Lucifer’s Friend type of sound, with some funky rhythms and touches of jazz and even classical music thrown in, giving Birth Control a style all its own. And with his powerful voice, singer Bernd Noske (also the drummer) gave the band an instantly recognizable sound. Also, on my favorite Birth Control release (Backdoor Possibilities), the band went one step forward in its experimentation by incorporating some Gentle Giant influences into several tracks. Outstanding material overall.

After this classic period, however, the band (facing drastic changes in the music industry) attempted to keep itself relevant by changing its sound to more of a straight-forward AOR type of band and actually toying with—gulp—disco rhythms. Yes, you read that correctly, disco rhythms! Gag. Although, mind you, the four studio albums released from 1978-1982 weren’t completely horrible, just rather lackluster and, with that disco flirtation in the late 70s, a bit too much for me to bear. I quickly lost interest in the band during this period.

But then, the band disappeared for more than a decade, only to reemerge in 1995 with a heavy album once again. And with singer/drummer Bernd Noske still at the helm. Up through its final album in 2003, Birth Control sounded rejuvenated with an updated organ-dominated, Deep Purple-influenced, Heavy-Prog sound. And the band’s last four releases were better than average. Still, nothing quite beats the “classic/glory period” as described above, which I wholeheartedly encourage fans of Heavy-Prog to investigate.

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IQ – An Overview

IQ2

Albums In My Collection

– Are You Sitting Comfortably?
– Dark Matter
– Ever
– Frequency
– Frequency: Tour
– Nomzamo
– The Road To Bones
– Seven Stories Into 98
– The Seventh House
– Subterranea: The Concert
– Tales From The Lush Attic
– The Wake

An Overview

Easily one of my all-time favorite Prog-Rock bands!

The early 1980s was an exciting time in music, especially in Great Britain. Then, with Punk Rock and Pop/Disco on the wane, both the New Wave Of Heavy Metal and the New Wave Of Progressive Rock eras began, the latter being (for me) the most exciting. Among the many bands to emerge were Marillion, Pallas, Pendragon, Twelfth Night, and IQ.

For many years, I felt that Marillion were the band destined to become the ultimate torch-bearers, the supreme and long-lasting superstars in the Neo-Prog-Rock category, blazing a trail of nearly perfect albums that would never end–and for a while they were the leaders–but then their vocalist Fish left the fold, and things started to go downhill, and fast. Thankfully, nature abhors a vacuum, and at just about the same time as this decline in Marillion’s high quality output arrived, IQ (a band I’d always thought held great promise, who were probably 2nd in line to Marillion in the 80s) really started to blossom, and fast.

And now, 30 years later, they are still releasing 5-Star albums! Indeed, all of their albums from the early 1990s through today I have rated either 4.5 or 5 Stars, with their most recent release, The Road To Bones, being a chilling, jaw-dropping, bloody unrivaled masterpiece in the genre. They have easily become one of my favorite bands of all time, falling within the Top 10 of the Prog-Rock genre, leaving Marillion way behind in the dust. IQ never strayed too far from their Neo-Prog roots, and that’s why I respect them. Or rather, one of the reasons. The other reasons are their consistent high quality in everything from material, musicianship, melodies, and production. Simply Aces!

Any lover of Progressive Rock should do themselves a favor and add each and every studio release by this extraordinary band into their music catalogue. Yes, even the albums Nomzamo and Are You Sitting Comfortably?, featuring the singer Paul Menel and not Peter Nicholls, and considered by many their “lowest point,” which are still endlessly better than albums most bands can produce in a lifetime. So when it comes to IQ overall, there are only two important words—Essential Listening!

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Nightwish – An Overview

Nightwish

Albums In My Collection

– Angels Fall First
– Century Child
– Dark Passion Play
– End Of The Era
– Endless Forms Most Beautiful
– Imaginaerum
– Oceanborn
– Once
– Wishmaster

An Overview

One of the best female-fronted bands, not only in this genre/style, but of all time…although these days the females seem to change quite often. Nevertheless, each of the gals who has fronted this band has better than average talent and is each, in her own right, unique and instantly identifiable.

Tarja Turunen, the first and the longest reigning (thus far) of the three vocalists, is perhaps–at least to me–the singer who best “fits” the overall Nightwish sound and “image.” Not only did she contribute her unique style to the band’s output for the first ten years of their existence, but she is probably the singer who most inspired the “ultimate sound” that so many other bands adopting a similar style have most attempted to duplicate through the years. The band undoubtedly hit their most successful period with Tarja fronting, and will most likely (should they ever break up) be the singer most “known” within the band.

Tarja’s replacement for two albums (one damned good–Dark Passion Play–and the other release, considered way below average–Imaginaerum) was Anette Olson. Thankfully or horribly (depending on which Nightwish fan you ask) she did not attempt to duplicate Tarja’s style, but contributed her own brand of vocals that, for better or worse, placed another “identifiable stamp” on the band. In my opinion, Anette’s contribution to Nighwish was generally successful, and I liked much of what she did. Certainly the girl has talent galore, but the question remains as to whether she was actually “appropriate” for a band of this style since her vocals might have been better suited for a band with a more “pop” direction. Nevertheless, Anette did her job, and probably faced one of the biggest fan-backlashes in music history because some Tarja fans can get quite venomous. Be that as it may, Anette recently decided to leave the band (or was she pushed out?…we may never know the full truth). I wish her luck, and she deserves success in her own right.

And now, another singer has stepped in to the fill the front-girl shoes, albeit temporarily…Floor Jansen, formerly of After Forever (an excellent act!) and currently with ReVamp (another excellent act!). Anyway, Floor is one of my FAVORITE female vocalists, her style unique and her spot-on, robust delivery nothing short of spine-tingling. I must say, I’m seriously torn between the idea of Floor becoming the permanent replacement for Anette. Initially, when I learned that Tarja had left the band back in 2006, I immediately wished for Floor to become her replacement. Her voice is stellar yet different, but not too different from Tarja’s that the change in singers would be too jarring for longtime fans of the band. She was (to me) the OBVIOUS replacement, and for all I know, she might have been offered the opportunity. But the timing of Tarja’s departure from Nightwish (at their high-water mark) and Floor’s non-availability proved wretchedly bad, with After Forever still kicking ass (also producing their high-water mark album) and not breaking up until just after Nighwish had already selected Anette. And now, with ReVamp still an active band (from whom I’ve been patiently awaiting another album, damn it) I’m not sure how I feel about Floor joining Nightwish on a permanent basis. She definitely “fits” the style of the music, and I can picture her successfully contributing to some more powerful albums, but what would happen to ReVamp should this occur? Who knows, which is the reason for my floundering.

Regardless, Floor is a terrific (temporary) addition to the band, and should Nightwish eventually ask her to join them, I will (more likely than not) welcome her with open and enthusiastic arms. (An update to my original overview, which was written several years ago: Nightwish has indeed roped Floor into joining them as their new vocalist and have released their first album with her at the helm, Endless Forms Most Beautiful.)

The bottom line, though, whether you’re a fan of Tarja’s, Anette’s, or Floor’s, is that Nightwish has set a high standard for Female-Fronted Symphonic Metal, has inspired hundreds if not thousands of “wannabe” bands, and has generated album after album of high-quality material. If you haven’t checked them out in the past, do so now…before they change singers yet again…

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Marillion – An Overview

marillion-logo

Albums In My Collection

– Afraid Of Sunlight
– Anoraknophobia
– Brave
– Brief Encounter
– Clutching At Straws
– Fugazi
– Holidays In Eden
– Made Again
– Marbles
– Marillion.com
– Market Square Heroes (EP)
– Misplaced Childhood
– Radiation
– Real To Reel
– Script For A Jester’s Tear
– Seasons End
– The Thieving Magpie
– This Strange Engine

An Overview

Marillion is another Love/Hate band for me. Here’s why…

When the band first appeared on the scene during the “New Wave Of Progressive Rock” era in (primarily) England back in the 1980s, I sat up and took notice. At that time, they were the closest thing one could get to the old classic-Genesis sound. Lead singer Fish (Derek Dick) had such a terrific approach–although strikingly similar to Peter Gabriel, he also had a unique style/delivery–whereas the musicians (particularly keyboardist Mark Kelly)–seemed to mimic Genesis at every turn. Script For A Jester’s Tear, the band’s debut album, as well as the EPs and singles Market Square Heroes (especially the track “Grendel”), He Knows, You Know/Charting The Single and Garden Party/Margaret all instantly conjured the same moods and feelings of classic Genesis that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the band. These feelings lasted as long as Fish remained the lead singer. But feelings changed drastically once he left…

Granted, when Steve Hogarth joined the band to replace Fish, I was skeptical. Once I heard the album Seasons End I realized that the old Genesis sound was gone forever, yet in its place was a new sound of Marillion-Prog, one that was certainly enjoyable for the most part. This feeling lasted for another album or two.

But then, changes crept into the band, ones I did not appreciate. The band, for some reason, abandoned their style in favor of what I call “ambient rock,” watered-down, soft and moody, washed-out material that no longer held any excitement for me, that seemed nothing but yawn-worthy. I continued to purchase their albums through the years hoping that somehow they would return to the traditional Prog-Rock fold, but I have been left sorely disappointed and finally, after suffering through Marbles (which gained glorious praise, to my utter confusion) I gave up all hope. Nothing since the album Afraid Of Sunlight (after the horribly boring Brave) has held my interest more than a minute or two, so I have stopped buying any new Marillion material. A shame, since I truly held this band in such high esteem when they first appeared, and to me, the current band is just a mere shadow of its former self.

Like I thought about Genesis when Peter Gabriel left and the band dramatically altered their style, I feel Marillion should have changed their name instead of ruining the band’s reputation.

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Magenta – An Overview

Magenta

Albums In My Collection

– Chameleon
– Home & The New York Suite
– Metamorphosis
– Revolutions
– Seven
– The Singles
– The Twenty Seven Club

An Overview

Perhaps one of my favorite bands of all time.  I discovered them several years ago, and since that time, I have listened to them almost constantly.  One of the main reasons for this is the fantastic vocalist, Christina Booth. It’s rare enough to run across a band that plays progressive rock music in the style of 70’s Yes and Genesis (my favorite style of music) and features a female singer, but to also have that singer possess an instantly recognizable voice makes them even more special.  My only complaint when it comes to Magenta is that they don’t have nearly enough albums to satisfy my persistent craving!!!

As mentioned, Magenta’s style isn’t unique, but brings to mind the old Prog-Rock bands of the last century.  They aren’t a direct “rip-off,” however, and have created their own style, which I find riveting.  Christina’s beautiful voice (sort of a cross between Stevie Nicks and Annie Haslam from Renaissance) shines on every track, her flawless and emotional performances typically being nothing short of breathtaking and stirring.  Their music is often majestic, with long and complicated arrangements, but it’s never “above the heads” of the average listener, with Christina adding some catchy melodies to just about every single track.  I have rated all of Magenta’s official studio albums with a “5,” and I can’t recall ever before doing that with another band, so for me there truly is something unique about them.

So if you like Prog-Rock lush with synths, Mellotrons, and pianos, along with female vocals, do yourself a favor and check out this act.  I can’t believe they aren’t the “next biggest thing” by now, seeing as how they have numerous studio and live albums and singles to their credit.

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Gentle Giant – An Overview

GentleGiant
Albums In My Collection

– Acquiring The Taste
– Civilian
– Free Hand
– Gentle Giant
– Giant For A Day
– In A Glass House
– Interview
– The Missing Piece
– Octopus
– Playing The Fool
– The Power And The Glory
– Three Friends
– Totally Out Of The Woods
– Under Construction 1
– Under Construction 2

An Overview

Gentle Giant is one of my favorite bands of all time. They have numerous imitators, but no other band has ever satisfactory duplicated their sound because they were so completely unique, at times simply brilliant, from their varied and inspired instrumentation to their complex and jaw-dropping vocal arrangements. (The track “Knots” from the Octopus album has to be heard to be believed.)

They produced some of most ambitious, eclectic Progressive Rock albums of the early 70s, yet sadly, they never could gain mass acceptance, and to this day, have nothing more than a cult following. But without Gentle Giant, bands such as Spock’s Beard and Echolyn might not even exist today, or at least would have a very different sound.

For lovers of Progressive Rock, the string of Gentle Giant albums from Acquiring The Taste through the live Playing The Fool are essential to have in their collections.

As far as their other albums go, Prog-Rock lovers will likely be somewhat disappointed…

The band’s debut album isn’t quite “there” with the band still finding their trademarked sound, and latter albums The Missing Piece and Giant For A Day find the band making a desperate (and unsuccessful) grab at commercial acceptance, largely abandoning their complex arrangements in favor of lightweight, simplistic rock.

Their final album Civilian, however, although perhaps not something all Prog-Rock lovers will admire, is an album I enjoy quite a bit, but it’s not a return to the true GG sound, but instead a melding of AOR/Hard Rock with Progressive influences, so buyers beware.

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Lorraine Lewis – Lorraine Lewis (2001)

LorraineLewis_12.5 out of 5 Stars!

At first glance, who does Lorraine resemble on the cover?  Answer: Faith Hill.  At first listen, who does Lorraine sound like on this release?  Answer: OK, well maybe not exactly like Faith Hill, but the same style of music, for certain.

If you pick this up expecting songs in a similar vein to the hard melodic rock of Lorraine’s former band Femme Fatale, then you’ll be extremely disappointed.  Sure, there are a few rock and blues influences on this release, but they are all melded with an overall country & western style that wouldn’t be out of place on a Faith Hill or Shania Twain record. Nothing too horrible here, as Lorraine’s voice actually fits this style of music fairly well—she even has a yodel-esque quirk to her voice at the end of several lines, which would make the fans in Nashville toss their cowboy hats into the sky and take notice—but there’s truly also nothing much memorable on offer when it comes to these seven tracks either, which is where the below-average rating comes from. Give me a release from Faith or Shania any ol’ day, since they merge these genres so much better.

Nevertheless, since Lorraine does seem to have an affinity for this style of music, perhaps if she had stuck with it, worked with some top-notch songwriters, she might have found the right niche for her talent and gained some Nashville fame.  Oh well…

Jumbo – Vietato ai minori di 18 anni? (1973)

Jumbo_Vietato5 out of 5 Stars!

A weird, wacky, and wild treat. The music on this album is a schizophrenic mix of styles, with all the songs seeming to take your brain through a demented roller-coaster ride of craziness.  But what exactly is Jumbo made of?

There are brilliant bursts of high-energy symphonic Prog-Rock interspersed with some mellow passages of pastoral beauty. It also sounds as if every musical instrument known to mankind is being tossed into the bowl, while rhythms shift and shimmy to continually jangle the nerves. Meanwhile, the instrumental passages sound like the best ingredients of Gentle Giant, PFM, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Jethro Tull after getting shoved into a musical meat grinder, only to be served at the table of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who sprinkled their own patented brand of crazy spices on top, especially when it comes to the vocalist, who delivers explosions of psychotic Italian babbling and jabbering and gut-wrenching shrieks to the proceedings. Add a crisp, clear production and some studio wankery and wizardry as if in the hands of Brian Eno to the dish before tossing it into the musical oven, and it’s done.

Definitely doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it?

And yet, somehow, it actually works! I’ve never heard another band like this, and probably never will. Bravo!

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Julian’s Treatment – A Time Before This (1970)

JuliansTreatment_TimeBefore4 out of 5 Stars!

U.K. band Julian’s Treatment released only a single concept album back in 1970.

The Prog-Rock displayed on this collection of tracks is dominated by organ, with the occasional piano and harpsichord, all supplied by Julian Jay Savarin, who went on to release another album under his own name (then went on to become a multi-published novelist). Note, even though the band supposedly included a full-time guitarist, he’s barely present on many of the tracks, and when he does make an appearance, it’s usually by tossing in either psychedelic (ie. heavy fuzz-toned) interjections or he contributes some mellow background fills. Actually, if I remember correctly, there are perhaps only one or two solos where he actually gets to shine. Flute (supplied by the guitarist) also makes an appearance on some of the tracks.

The major “plus” is in the lead vocal department, supplied by Cathy Pruden, who, with her wide range and pleasant tone, is quite adept and lends almost a Curved Air feeling to the album.

Generally speaking, however, the album sounds a little dated in a “Vanilla Fudge albums sound dated” sort of way, yet the material is pleasant enough and well-performed, with almost a Krautrock feel to the overall production.

 

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