Gillan – Future Shock (1981)

Gillan_FutureShock4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Gillan (the band) always played a weird-ass concoction of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal/Prog-Rock and even “How The Hell Do You Classify That?” Rock that somehow got simply clumped into the “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” movement of the early ’80s (thanks to the era of the band’s productivity and splendor).

But just savoring each track on any of the band’s many albums showed that it had a TON of diversity, thanks to the extraordinary musicians involved (on this album, keyboardist Colin Towns, guitarist Bernie Tormé, drummer Mick Underwood, bassist John McCoy, and vocalist Ian Gillan) and their individual histories of playing on such diverse albums in numerous bands with such diverse styles.

As you can no-doubt tell, “diversity” is the key issue (and word) here, and 1981’s Future Shock is no exception. This collection of tracks features an eclectic blend of genres, where it’s almost unfathomable to pinpoint any primary category for the overall platter, except “pure Gillan wildness.”

Certainly many tunes, such as “Night Ride Out of Phoenix,” “Don’t Want the Truth,” “Sacre Bleu,” “Bite the Bullet,” “(The Ballad of) The Lucitania Express,” the title track, and the band’s rousing rendition of Guida/Royster’s “New Orleans,” could be considered simply Hard Rock bordering on Heavy Metal, yet each of the songs also includes such wacky guitar leads or avant-garde keyboard solos, or unpredictable arrangements and rhythmic breaks or tempos, that some people might argue the songs are Progressive Rock in nature also.

The same genre-oddness befalls “No Laughing in Heaven”—although the song’s foundation is Blues-based Hard Rock, Gillan’s vocals, an amusing and stunning combination of talking and shrieking during the verses, is like a precursor to Rap—”Heavy Rap Metal,” of course. Then we come to the absolute jewels of the album, the borderline Prog-Rock ditties “If I Sing Softly” and “For Your Dreams,” with both containing haunting scores and instrumentation that set them apart from the other eight tunes.

By the way, all of the aforementioned tracks appear on the original vinyl version of the album, but I also purchased the CD “re-mastered” version a decade later, which features ten additional bonus tracks—including my favorite, “Mutually Assured Destruction”—where even more craziness ensues with “genre-merging” from song to song, although not quite as stark or numerous.

Anyway, on Future Shock, the exact genre into which each track actually falls is entirely dependent on the personal preferences of the listener. As for me, as mentioned above, I call the band’s overall style “pure Gillan wildness,” and I still love every single moment of this album, as well as each platter produced by this unique, entertaining, and phenomenal band during its way-too-short existence. Nevertheless, Ian Gillan will forever remain my favorite vocalist of all time, and Colin Towns will always retain a spot on my Top Ten Rock Keyboardists list—both individuals proved enormously influential when it came to my own musical growth, and their performances on Future Shock show exactly why.

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Time Requiem – The Inner Circle of Reality (2004)

TimeRequiem_Reality4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Led by keyboardist extraordinaire Richard Andersson (Space Odyssey/Adagio/Majestic), Sweden’s Time Requiem never got the recognition it so richly deserved, in my opinion. Between 2002 and 2006, the band delivered a trio of dynamic and dramatic near-perfect studio albums, with The Inner Circle of Reality (the second release) also featuring the brutally powerful Apollo Papathanasio (Majestic/Firewind/Evil Masquerade) on vocals, unheralded guitarist Magnus Nordh, and the always-stellar rhythm section (from The Flower Kings/Karmakanic) of bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Zoltan Csorsz, both playing outside their “normal realm of Prog” in hard-hitting fashion.

As with each of the band’s releases, The Inner Circle of Reality presents complex yet highly melodic Prog-Metal/Prog-Rock of the Neoclassical variety. Compositions such as “Hidden Memories,” “Reflections,” “Dreams of Tomorrow,” “Definition of Insanity,” and the nearly twelve-minute title track contain outstanding, often breathtaking musicianship throughout, especially when it comes to Nordh’s sizzling guitar leads and Andersson’s delicious keyboard fills and wickedly speedy solos. Any fans of artists such as Symphony X, Harmony, Yngwie Malmsteen, Artension, Stratovarius, and Royal Hunt will certainly savor the jaw-dropping proficiency on display here and, probably like me, wish the album contained more than just seven tracks (not counting the eighth tune, “Bach Prelude Variation,” the horribly brief album closer that would’ve likely had Johann Sebastian Bach himself smiling proudly and begging to hear more).

Although Time Requiem, after suffering major lineup changes—most noticeably with the gifted Goran Edman replacing Papathanasio on vocals—released its somewhat more commercial third album (Optical Illusion) in 2006 and seemed on the brink of gaining wider recognition, the band suddenly vanished without a trace. Even worse, founder/mastermind Richard Andersson, apart from popping up as a “guest keyboardist” on several albums through the subsequent years, has kept a sinfully low profile, while all the while I’d prayed he’d once again put together another band to showcase his enormous songwriting and performing talents.

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Dave Kerzner – Static (2017)

DaveKerzner_Static4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The name of Florida-based keyboardist and vocalist Dave Kerzner first came to my attention back in 2015 when investigating a band called Sound of Contact, a Prog-Rock act that also included drummer Simon Collins (son of Phil Collins, of Genesis fame). The group’s sole album in 2013, Dimensionaut, proved fairly impressive, especially when it came to Kerzner’s grand and symphonic keyboard arrangements. So in 2016, when I saw Kerzner’s name in association with yet another new band, this one called Mantra Vega (also including vocalist Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn), I snatched it up without question. And once again, the keyboard-rich material on that debut, The Illusion’s Reckoning, made a terrific first impression. So Kerzner was “two for two” in my book, and I started delving into the man’s background, seeing what else I might have missed.

Well, one of the tidbits I unearthed was that the keyboardist had also delivered a solo album in 2014, New World, which became another “no-brainer” for me when it came to the decision of purchasing it. And, no great shock, the album ended up being another first-class winner. This time, however, Kerzner provided the lead vocals (along with keyboards, some guitars, bass, and drums, and the proverbial kitchen sink, I’m sure) as well as composed and produced lush and breathtaking soundscapes, his performances enhanced with the aid of various Prog-Rock cohorts, such as drummers Nick D’Virgilio and Simon Phillips, guitarists Steve Hackett and Francis Dunnery, and even the magnificent Keith Emerson himself (RIP), to name but a few. Okay, I decided, so the guy not only knows some top-notch people in “the biz,” but has talent—considerable and enviable talent at that!

So, with his name indelibly emblazoned in my mind, I certainly did not miss the announcement of Kerzner’s latest album, Static, which he dropped on the Prog-Rock community in late 2017. And guess what? Yes, it’s another gem, this time with Kerzner repeating his songwriting, performing, and production duties as skillfully, enjoyably, and as powerfully as he did on his first solo effort. And like before, a wealth of “guests” (most notably Hackett and D’Virgilio again) pop up on several tracks, but despite the presence of these musicians injecting their own talents on various tunes, it also becomes crystal clear that, like the previous album, Static is easily Kerzner’s beautifully and lovingly nurtured baby. Indeed, with both New World and Static in his arsenal, creating a one-two punch of musical muscle, Kerzer can now claim his own distinctive sound/style, much in the same way as other solo musicians (Neil Morse instantly springs to mind) has his own identifiable brand stamped on each new collection of tracks he releases under his own moniker.

Sure, amidst the varied tunes, both brief and lengthy compositions, I can sometimes hear, as examples, a bit of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Spock’s Beard, and Transatlantic influences, but Kerzner never attempts to clone any other artist. He doesn’t need to, actually, since his creativity seems to know no bounds.

Aside from the brief “Prelude,” the album opens with a mighty and sardonic bang in the form of the upbeat, glorious, and occasionally eclectic “Hypocrites,” a track that includes everything from numerous and diverse passages, tempo shifts, ballsy guitar rhythms and leads, keyboards galore (including Mellotron and synth solos), and creepy digital ambience tossed in for good measure. The vocals, done in luscious multi-part harmony for the most part, do seem to have a “David Gilmour/Pink Floyd” flavor when it comes to Kerzner’s range, timbre, and execution, but heck, the man can’t help it if his voice possesses a few homogeneous traits of another singer, right? He does, however, do much to avoid direct comparisons, delivering the lyrics with layered harmonies and electronic enhancements. And in the end, this track is a real corker, and one of my favorites—”we’re all hypocrites”—indeed!

The title track, on the other hand, is—music-wise—pretty much in direct opposition to the previous tune, with a dreamy, keyboard-grounded background over a lazy rhythm, luxuriant in its spacier atmosphere and laid-back vocal delivery. In other words, more along the lines of groups such as Pink Floyd or Airbag. Whereas on the quirkier and bopping “Reckless,” the poppish vocal melody, varied and highly creative instrumentation, and overall eccentric character of the song arrangement suddenly brings to mind the wonderfully produced material released by the late Kevin Gilbert on his The Shaming of the True release. And no shock that Kerzner might have adopted some of the same “sound/style” qualities as Gilbert, considering the two had worked together in and around the group Giraffe and the latter’s solo material.

From this point forward, the album moves at a brisk clip, with several shorter, more direct tunes such as “Chain Reaction” and “Millennium Man” (which remind me of the catchier, straightforward side of artists such as World Trade or Trevor Rabin, only with multifarious studio enhancements and Prog-Rock embellishments), “Trust,” “State of Innocence,” and “Right Back to the Start” (delightfully mellow ballads that I can easily envision Art Rock artists such as Roxy Music or 10cc would have killed to release decades ago if given the studio capabilities of the modern age), and “Quiet Storm” and “Statistic” (electronically enriched tracks that add avant-garde strangeness to the overall collection).

And then, the album closes with “The Carnival of Modern Life,” the nearly seventeen-minute magnum-opus, which deserves (no, it demands) its own paragraph. Talk about varied and strange, this wickedly creative track has it all when it comes to Prog-Rock magic…heck, just look at the eerie cover art (thanks to equally brilliant artist Ed Unitsky) and that should give you an idea as to the song’s off-the-wall qualities when it comes to numerous melodies, rhythms, and sound effects. Yet, the organs and synths, the guitar and bass runs, and the vocals performed in the same multi-layered resplendence as the aforementioned “Hypocrites” all work to perfection. In fact, the track’s mischievously assorted instrumentation and sundry mood shifts reflect the often-insane reality of modern society’s ever-alternating viewpoints and occasional mass-hysteria moments. How long it took Kerzner to piece together and mix this mammoth masterpiece is beyond me, but my guess would be months, since the level of detail with the shifting song arrangements, the various sound effects and voice-overs that add atmospheric tinsel, would seem a mighty daunting task. But damn it, the whole track works, therefore, bravo to the mastermind behind this daring and audacious composition.

So in total, Kerzner has once again delivered an album of exceptional quality, and now, after reveling in his work for several years, I can clearly and undoubtedly declare that the man has a laser-focused brain and boundless imagination for creating engaging music in the Prog-Rock variety. And I’m so damned covetous!

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