A Review of Blink of An Eye by Enchant

I started the original Prog Rock Dock site with a review of Enchant’s…well…enchanting CD entitled “Juggling Nine or Dropping Ten”. I have to say that though this band is not as popular as prog bands such as Yes, Genesis or Dream Theater, they certainly have a genuine sense of their own music and also a definite way of pleasing their fan base.

Blink Of An Eye is not a disappointment.  I feel that it actually has a “oh wait, did I tell you this?” feeling about it. A CD that actually may have been interesting as a companion piece to Juggling Nine, although that experience may have been overwhelming. A lot of the themes that present themselves in Juggling Nine seem to be here as well. The first track, a knockout entitled “Under Fire”, once again tackles the death theme that Enchant seems to deal with very effectively.  This time from the point of view of someone who is put in the position of taking someone’s life. It is a gripping song that pounds along passionately. Ted Leonard’s vocals on the second wave after the chorus is one of the most emotional and compelling expressions of anguish that you’re likely to feel come out of a song. Doug Ott’s guitar work is magnificent on this track, clean and brutal at times. Strangely enough, there is a song by Hoobastank called “Runaway” that sounds like they heard a good dose of Enchant and decided to copy the style. Sadly enough Runaway (though a good song) gets tons of airplay, while Under Fire may never see the laser of many a DJs CD player.

The CD has a nice balance of songs, although I didn’t quite like the placement of the song Monday as the second track (perhaps just my own weird sense of the pace of a CD) and also the two slower paced songs being next to each other Follow The Sun/Ultimate Gift. Follow The Sun is a gem. It has such a pleasant feel. I can’t really describe it. Though the theme of driving along with someone you love does give you a sense of it. The song leaves you with a glow. Ultimate Gift is just a decent song and is probably my least favorite on the CD. It is very ordinary but likely has growth potential. It may have been better to leave it for another CD and include Prognosis as the official closer of the CD.

Prognosis…

This song is an instrumental and is actually a bonus track. But ahhhhh, what a BONUS!!! Seriously, this is probably one of the best prog-metal instrumentals out there. An anthem, if you will. I can say no more about this song except, make sure you get a copy of this CD with this song on it. Turn up the volume and let it rip.

Overall, this CD has everything that an Enchant fan would expect. It grows on you, moves you and will make an impression on you.  I have only listened twice and so I will hold on to further comment until I have discovered all that there is to comment on. Perhaps I will do a song-by-song column on it. In the meantime, rest easy fellow fans. Enchant has once again done well.

Song By Song: The Flower Kings – The Rainmaker

Harken back to the days of progressive magic. The Flower Kings new release “The Rainmaker” is one for the archives.

Song By Song: The Flower Kings: The Rainmaker

Last Minute On Earth

There is no doubt that you are listening to Progressive Rock with this as an intro song. The song begins in typical Flower Kings quirky fashion. A satirical voice doing what might be interpreted as a rain chant. Soon after, we get a nice instrumental section and then some very Spock’s Beardish (or is it Spock’s Beard that sounds like the Flower Kings?) vocals. This song has all the things that endear the Kings fans to them. Strange sounds, Kansas-like jams, atmosphere. One of my favorite moments is during a mellow guitar solo at about 7:00 in the song, a voice yelps out like you here at a concert. Clocking in at 11:51, you won’t be disappointed by the opener.
World Without A Heart

A beautiful ballad. One of those, let-all-us-miserable-band-together-and-have-hope songs. Of course there’s back masking at the end just so we aren’t left too serious.
Road To Sanctuary

Where’s ELP when you need them? Sounds an awful lot like them at the outset. And maybe does not quite end there. This song sport a lot of the prog legends’ qualities. Regal and complex, with intense vocals at parts. At 11:25 this song glides into a beautiful closing passage. And yet another song breaking the ten minute mark!
The Rainmaker

Beginning with the sound of military drums playing quietly behind the cadence of melody, this song begins and builds with Bolero-like anticipation and subsides with a wonderful electronic soundscape. A great instrumental title piece.
City of Angels

Another good epic song clocking in at 12:04. Some good folksy prog to begin with. Sort of like “Close To The Edge” Yes music. The only thing that struck me funny (please don’t hate me, fans) is the “looking for love in a city of angels” chorus sounds a little disco-like. Although this does not ruin the song (maybe I did by pointing it out – eh?). With the typical good humor that the Flower Kings have, we might chalk it up to a parody of sorts.
Elaine

Poor Elaine! “Wind and Wuthering” Genesis meets Morrisey’s lyrics.
Thru The Walls

It sounds like they found a discarded out takes tape from the Genesis Foxtrot era and did a cover of one of the songs. It particularly sounds like young Banks and Hackett visited the studio on this one.
Sword of God

Intense power riffs with a nice Jethro Tull like mid-section (just missing the flute).
Blessing Of A Smile

Another chip off the ol’ Genesis “Wind and Wuthering” era. Initially you may not agree, but when this song hits 1:15, you will say “oh yeah”. And even at 2:15 it seems to transcend itself and launch into a “Lamb” era sound. A nice instrumental.
Red Alert

Very short and sweet instrumental. I won’t draw comparisons here. I’ll let you do it.
Curious (sorry I mean Serious) Feeling (oops, I mean Dreamers)

Just a little fun with the title of Serious Dreamers, because the intro sounds so like Mr. Banks (okay, back to comparisons for a moment). This closing song is very regal and does this collection of songs well as the other book end.

This is true progressive rock that harkens back to days of old! Do not hesitate to pick up this CD if you are starved for something new that honors the old school. The Flower Kings have released what promises to be a classic of the genre. As you can tell by my references to some of the best in classic prog, these guys really draw from the greats and do justice to their names. The songs play with no space in between them, so the whole thing has a concept feel to it, particularly toward the end with the instrumental pieces. This CD is loaded with creativity and all of the things that make progressive rock the most interesting and accomplished msic of our time.

Star One

Best known for his progressive rock project, Ayreon, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has chosen to expand his artistic identity with a new project album called ‘Star One’.

THE PROJECT NAME: “STAR ONE” 

When Arjen makes a new CD, it is often a reaction to his work on a previous album. Prior to ‘Star One’, Arjen created a softer, more atmospheric album under the name of Ambeon. Now in contrast, he has gone to the other extreme to create a completely unbridled heavy metal album.

So why not just call it Ayreon? Arjen replies, “Ayreon has come to be known as having many different musical styles, while Star One focuses mainly on just the heavy side of my music. The songs are more straightforward and guitar-oriented but they are still progressive. This album was never intended to be an Ayreon album, so calling it Ayreon just wouldn’t feel right to me.” The name Star One is derived from an episode of Arjen’s favourite science fiction TV series called ‘Blakes 7′.

THE CONCEPT: “SPACE METAL” 

Unlike the Ayreon albums, ‘Space Metal’ isn’t a continuous story or a rock opera, yet it is still very much a concept album. Instead of a continuous story, the individual songs are all based on space movies and are designed to act as vehicle to that takes the listener on a journey through Arjen’s mind and memory; A place where they relive those great science fiction space films that made such an impact on him.

Arjen talks about the concept: “I based the songs on films that take place entirely in space. It’s really hard to write a song based on a film and then not use names or make the references to the original too clear. I really wanted to write about my impressions of the films and not just tell the same story over again. I wonder how many people are going to recognize the films on which I based the songs!”.

THE MUSICIANS: A STARSHIP FULL OF TALENT

 Arjen Lucassen set a trend in conceptual recordings with his Ayreon albums. Many laughed when he recorded his first rock opera ‘Ayreon – The Final Experiment’ in 1995, and most record companies were hesitant to sign him. But after the highly successful release of his third Ayreon CD, the rock opera ‘Into the Electric Castle’, many musicians and producers have followed in his footsteps and new rock operas with multiple singers began to surface all over the world. Arjen comments: “Yes, I’ve noticed it! And I regard it as a compliment. But I have also noticed that on many of these operas the singers sound the same, and you need the CD booklet to tell them apart. To ensure that this didn’t happen on ‘Space Metal’, I used very different sounding singers. Though appearing in the same songs, the different singers were used to convey different moods”. Dan Swano (ex-Edge of Sanity, Nightingale) sings the low parts, Russell Allen (Symphony X) sings the powerful rough parts, Damian Wil! son (ex-Threshold) sings the high clear parts, and to top it off, Floor Jansen (After Forever) sings the really high choruses. Robert Soeterboek (Ayreon) sang the backing vocals with his huge smoky voice.

Of course the same consideration was given to the instrumental sections. Ed Warby played the powerful drums, and Erik Norlander once again added his huge analog synth leads. Arjen also managed to get Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen, Dio, Stratovarius) who played some incredibly fast synth leads as well. And Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) played two explosive and speedy guitar solos. Arjen even succeeded in getting Hawkwind’s Dave Brock to make a guest vocal appearance, something no one has ever managed to do before. Arjen talks about Brock’s guest appearance: “Hawkwind were the inventors of Space Rock, so I thought it would be a cool idea to record a Hawkwind medley for the album. I asked Dave to sing on it, and to my surprise, he did it! This is a dream come true as he has been a huge influence on me.”

Cocteau Twins: Buried Treasure

An account of my first experience with the Cocteau Twins and the Phenomenal release “Treasure,” which defined the band and a whole genre to come.

I looked at the cover of the album as I stood in the aisle of Tower Records (this was back when “Records” meant records) and I decided to buy it sound unheard. It was a beautiful cover, worthy of a museum. The song titles were simple, yet mysterious, chisled nicely in the swirling charcoal design of the cover. And the name of the band was perfect:

Cocteau Twins

I went home and played the album “Treasure” by Cocteau Twins and began my long addiction to the music of Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, elegantly lifted by one of the most amazing voices that I had ever heard; that of Elisabeth Fraser.

The music of Cocteau Twins began in the vein of early Siouxsie and the Banshees. Elisabeth Fraser’s voice mimicked Siouxsie’s intensity and wide open flare. It would not be until the release of the album “Treasure” that she would fully enter the realm of her full potential. Her voice is glorious on this recording; sometimes harrowingly beautiful, as in “Aloysius”, and other times painfully angry and haunting, as in the latter part of “Beatrix”. A voice that is operatic and alternative all at once. But most compelling of all is that fact that her vocals are all but indecipherable. And though with some vocalists, this may be a set back, Elisabeth Fraser seems to somehow work this to her advantage. Rather than being trapped by making words and syllables fit into the song, she is able to create sounds that mold themselves to the music, using her voice almost as if it were another instrument. She then, somehow, knows when to let a clearly pronounced word erupt to bring us out of our daze. Elisabeth Fraser’s natural talent and unique ability have made her one of the most secretly imitated female vocalists of recent years.

Accompanying Elisabeth Fraser are guitarist Robin Guthrie and bassist Simon Raymonde. Though most songs are rather mellow, Guthrie and Raymonde are able to infuse the songs with thick atmospheres. Particularly in the EP releases “Tiny Dinamine” and “Echoes in a Shallow Bay”, the Cocteau Twins established a sonic psychedelic sound. Listening to the song “Pale Clouded White” can space you out right along with the “Wish You Were Here” era Pink Floyd. And though some believe that their sound was weakened in later releases, I believe that they never left the confines of what defined them in terms of mood and emotion in their songs. I felt that the later releases only expanded the scope of their territory, rather than being ventures into a musical realm that was not their own or flat out commercialism (but, speaking of commercials, there does exist a wonderful short piece that was used in a Fruitopia advertisement).

The titles of the songs on Treasure are compact and direct. Perfect names for the Cocteau Twins musical offspring. The first song bears the name of the 4AD record label patriarch Ivo Watts-Russell, which is particularly fitting, since the release of Treasure seemed to coincide with the lauch of what I believe was the 4AD record label’s most prolific and creative era. Each of the other songs on the album is titled in a single name that gives it an appropriate identity. Somehow the titles themselves merged with the album package and the music to create an unusual artistic package that was so perfect that I found myself staring as I listened. The craft of the script etched into the back cover, the almost Victorian beauty of the cover, the heavy stock of the inner sleeve and the beautiful, cascade of melodical compositions was a captivating experience.

The Cocteau Twins sadly are no longer a band. Yet, perhaps for the best, since now there is no chance of polluting their impressive catalogue of releases. I would recommend Treasure as a good starting place to experience this marvelous band. I would work forward from there, and venture backward particularly if you appreciate the music of Siouxsie and The Banshees. The first release “Garlands” is very Siouxsie and then the band begins to morph into their own style with “Head over Heels”, culminating finally into the brilliance of “Treasure.” For the first album that I discovered of the Cocteau Twins, what an appropriately titled album it was.

 

 

Electronic Music Today

These three electronica releases from the year 2000 were among the best and most verstile of the new electro movement.

Here are three must have electronica CDs. I purchased these at the same time without hearing much of any of them. I was pleasantly surprised with what I believe are three of the best of 2000. I highly recommend the experience of listening to these together.

Hybrid: Wide Angle

This is a fantastic CD. Sweeping in musical scope, with the use of an orchestra and wonderfully versatile musical arrangements. There is even a track that Chrissie Hynde lends her voice to and also a song with a very effective rap in French! The best track is the anthem “Theme from Wide Angle”, which sports some of the strongest electro-beats and a breathtaking chill out exit.

Chicane: Behind The Sun

On this Cd is quite possibly one of the most beautiful electronic tracks ever. Chicane uses Clannad’s Maire Brennan and the melody of the Clannad song “Theme from Harry’s Game” (this was the song also played in Patriot Games), as the basis of a song entitled “Saltwater”. This song is a gem, but it is the breakdown of the song, sub-titled the “Thrillseeker’s Mix” that really shines. If you have had a stressful day, put this track on and lose yourself.

BT: Movement In Still Life

I was initially struck with the ultracool Depeche Mode sounding song “Shame”, and I purchased the CD when I realized that the artist was listed in the electronica section and was also one of the top ten. What I discovered was a very diverse collection of songs from an emerging talent. Particularly engaging is the formerly mentioned “Shame”, “Satellite” and the hypnotic “Mercury and Solace”.

Some Enchanted CD

The Neo-Prog band “Enchant” delivers an excellent collection of powerful and emotional songs in their latest release  “Juggling Nine or Dropping Ten.”

Enchant has always been one of the more talented and intriguing of the new crop of progressive bands, and they have truly made their mark with their latest release. Previously, Enchant has always put out good music, but they would seem lost at times. On some songs they would wander for a melody, and sometimes find a nice structure to a song only to leave it for something somewhat mundane. Despite this, their music has always had the potential. Douglas Ott certainly was creating a unique style; light, sometimes jazz-like, chords encased in heavy music with a pop sensibility. These were strong compositions that sometimes struggled for an identity, but you got a sense in listening that Enchant was heading somewhere.

Enchant has arrived with “Juggling Nine or Dropping Ten”. This is a CD that can be enjoyed by both progressive fans and fans of mainstream music. Though the songs are more tightly constructed than on their previous releases, Enchant maintains a strong progressive flavor throughout. The music hear leans more toward driving rhythms accompanied by perfect vocal melodies. The lyrics fit the songs extremely well and Ted Leonard really seems to have found exactly where to sing in the songs and where to let the music feed itself. His Steve Walsh inspired vocal have never sounded better. One could only wish to hear Enchant do a cover of the Kansas song “Dust in the Wind” after hearing the closing acoustic song “Know That”.

The production has certainly kicked up a notch with this release as well. Though not perfect, Enchant has achieved a heavier sound. On previous releases, “Wounded” in particular, there was a hollowness to the sound of the songs. This has improved dramatically and it is apparent from the very first chord of the CD. “Paint the Picture” starts with an instrumental section that immediately lets you know that this is a progressive rock band. The song then abruptly shifts into a smooth rhythm enhanced by acoustic guitar. But even with the shift, the song does not loose it’s identity, nor do any of the songs on this CD.

The songs deal with a seemingly unified theme of strained relations and death, giving the overall collection an almost concept album feel. I especially felt this way after discovering that the end piece “Know That” was actually an acoustic version of “What to Say”. I was initially disappointed that “Know That” was so short until I realized this. Both songs create an intense portrait of a man facing death and thinking about his wife and child. Leonard’s voice shines on these songs and brings out the emotional theme very effectively.

The compositions are tighter than every and Douglas Ott seems to really be playing with a purpose. The guitar solos are well crafted and the chords are delivered on songs such as “Rough Draft” and “Colors Fade” with deliberate intensity. Even the occasional feedback is perfectly allowed. Though Enchant does use some progressive rock conventions, this CD is completely geared for mainstream listening. Songs such as “Black Eyes & Broken Glass”, “Broken Wave” and “Bite My Tongue” could be very comfortable on the radio and are among my favorites on the CD. The music here reminds me of the more intense and creative songs by the band Toto. Particularly on their album “Hydra” (Keep an eye out for an article on Toto in my upcoming column entitled “Hey! They Aren’t Prog Rock!”).

Overall this is a brilliant recording. I am also proud to know that the band hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, as do I. This is the perfect CD to let someone borrow who has no idea what progressive rock is. These are great songs with a unique sensibility that could serve well to open up people to the more complex aspects of progressive rock. Rarely does a band come out with a CD that you can put in your stereo or car deck and play over and over. Enchant has done it. As the lyrics of “Paint The Picture” state; “the masterpiece complete…”

 

Song-By-Song: Sigur Ros / Agaetis Byrjun

A song-by-song analysis of the latest CD by this quartet from Iceland. Plus a link to a webcast concert!

Agaetis Byrjun is the new release from Sigur Ros, a quartet from Iceland that is putting out some of the best music among the new breed of Space-Rock bands. Radiohead has been the most recognized of these bands, but Sigur Ros may well be the most comfortable in the element. Please click here to go to a webcast of Sigur Ros in concert.

Here is my breakdown of the songs on the new CD:

Intro – The CD begins with this short and simple track. A soothing number which uses back-masking and layered vocals to nice effect.

Sven-G-Englar – This track starts with an interesting mood; like a funeral on a submarine. A groaning guitar then enters and the song settles into a nice groove, but never leaves the underwater procession atmosphere. The vocals are subdued and the chorus has a curious high-pitched melody that the vocalist creates. The end sounds like leftovers from an old Atari video game.

Staralfur – Nice orchestral structure to this song. Mostly orchestra and voice but we are paid a visit by a rubber-something on water sound at one point, an acoustic guitar and morse code (?) – oh and a static blitz at the end.

Flugufrelsarrin – Guitar moans over a spacey electric keyboard groove encased in metal chamber atmosphere. Full-on Addams Family “Lurch” organ comes in mid-song along with some nice guitar picking.

Ny Batteri - Sounds like a high school band tuning their instruments at the beginning but settles into a beautiful floating song. The high school instruments begin to play with the melody and add quite a smooth finish to the song. A drum comes in at one point with Phil Collins-esque suddenness, sounding like it was borrowed from an underfunded public school.

Hjartad Hamast – Cool electric keyboard visited by a harmonica and then a gigantic roaring guitar, then we settle into Pink Floydian bliss. Space rock extrordinaire.

Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa – Piano and orchestra with slight enchancements, visited briefly by the ever soaring guitar and then drums and ends with orchestral chaos. Beautiful song!

Olsen Olsen – Almost expected Eddie Vedder to start singing over the guitar playing at the beginning, but this song takes on more of an early Dead Can Dance mood. The title made me think that this was going to be about the Olsen twins, but hey, it might be since I can’t understand a word of it!!! Very regal choral ending. You may catch yourself singing along…

Agaetis Byrjun – Enchanting composition. No wonder this is the title song.

Avalon – Sounds like the speed needs to be turned up on the turntable on this one. This is one of those closing anthems that are mainly there to wind down our experience, and it does succeed as intended. Sounds like a child walking around inside of a piano at the end and then we re-visit the intro theme.

Agaetis Byrjun is a masterpiece of the Neo-Space Rock genre. The music is very hypnotic and is not recommended on a day that you might be feeling a little depressed. But if you need some nice mood music for reading or are doing something creative, this CD is for you. I was very moved by the atmosphere and creativity of some of the bands supported by the record label 4AD in the 1980′s. Bands such as Cocteau TwinsXymox and Dead Can DanceSigur Ros reminds me a lot of these bands in their prime but also evoke moods of early Pink Floyd and other pioneers of the Psych-Rock movement. The lyrics are Icelandic but like Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins, the vocals act as an additional instrument. The vocalist uses his voice in a soft upper range, often like in the current incarnation of Radiohead or some of the more somber Smashing Pumpkins songs.

I say, put it on, turn out the lights…and dream.

The Dock is In!

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