Sunday, 30 March 2014

Lee Abraham - Distant Days

Some 4 years ago I saw Lee Abraham live at the legendary Winter's End festival in Stroud. He and his band at Black & White times were one of the main reasons for crossing the Noordzee and we arrived just in time to see the band kick off. Sean Filkins was at the time vocalist in his band and later released an album in similar vein. While Lee has a band around him, he also counts on many guests form the UK prog scene to spice things up. The same formula is applied on his new album Distant Days, which after a few spins might even be a bit better than previous release.

Opening track Closing the Door is build around Dec Burke on vocals and guitar. As I am a major fan of everything Dec Burke participates this is the liviest and best song of the album sounding close to Progmetal, also caused by Karl Groom (Threshold) adding some solo's here. Hereafter the title song comes, which is the only song where Lee sings himself. The song is a bit too slow and his voice is not that good compared with his guests, so title song or not, no highlight to me. On The Flame and later Walk Away we get John Young on vocals and after last year's great Lifesigns debut we know how good that can sound. Misguided is a welcome instrumental power intermezzo and on Epic Corridors of Power we get Marc Atkinson of Riversea fame, guiding that song. Closer and long one Tomorrow will be Yesterday has Steve Thorne singing and ends the album in style.

The album is very much impacted by the line-up of guest appearances on vocals. Since these are all known names, from bands in the same genre I can perfectly live with that variety. Having 6 vocalists on an album, always shall mean a live show complication, but this album deserves to be heard in a live setting as well. Going back to Stroud I remember the one vocalist was no impossible hurdle, so Lee get your band out and come to de Boerderij (Supporting Pendragon might gain him some fans and fit well to the bill).

Monday, 24 March 2014

HRH Prog/AOR - Hafan y Mor - Pwllheli - 20-22 March 2014

From which country is Fish? Well I knew that one and sent an entry to the draw forgetting about it the next day. So five weeks later I got this email from Fleur HRH that I won runners up 6 tickets for this year's HRH Prog festival. I had 4 days to supply the names of people joining me. When I informed that it was too hard to get 6 people in Holland willing to commit to a long weekend Wales half a year later, HRH showed their flexibility while informing that by renting accomodation at the park we would also be allowed at the AOR and Blues festivals taking place the same weekend. This meant increasing the bands of interest and after Josie told me she wanted to join to see Wales, Hans and Mary plus Yvon and Rene informed they would like to join too and the caravan was booked. my first ever HRH festival in Wales so holiday feelings all around. Having three festivals going on for three days, means many bands and many choices. So instead of going chronological through the weekend I just pass by several impressions of this beautifull weekend in stone cold Wales.

The diversity:
What made this weekend so interesting to me is the wide variety of bands. As I like both Prog in its mellow to its loudest forms as well as AOR I had many options to go for. Unfortunately next year both events are seperated and one music form shall prevail during two seperate weekends. I think that shall result in more less interesting shows to watch and certainly less diversity. Although there might exist some Rivalry between the genres (Love/Hate: "so you are not in the Prog building, you  all choose the Music building") For me the opposites attract as usual. For something completely different there was also a slightly longer (and thus colder) walk to the Blues stage good for one beer breaks.

The atmosphere:
Going in the Uk to a show is definitely different from shows in Holland, since there is more interaction with the audience. Come the opening evening we noticed that half the crowd used the festival also for a weekend out to dress different. from Hawaian shirts, the Corona crowd, to Latex Police women who just made getting arrested an option or not. In the AOR crowd there were many eighties alike posers as well, who should 30 years ago just not dressed like that attend a Manowar or Thrash concert. I never understood the enemy search in such paralel music sorts and highly enjoyed the wide range of slightly off cliche dressed people. The audience was basically made up by people ranging 30-75 years old, so everyone could easily enjoy a warmish pint, or served ice cold in the optimistic positioned outside bar. The Halls were an adventure as such, since while the AOR stage was a proper concert hall the prog stage was improvised, which resulted in a lot of lights at the back and during the day rays of sunligh entering the hall. The Blues stage was mainly a seated experience with pooltables shovelled away.

The choices:
Many bands means you can not see all. As we also needed to eat something somewhere in the day also food was a contender. Josie prepared us two great meals, which on Friday cost us Chimp Spanner (Prog) and Pink Cream 69 (AOR) on Saturday we ate during Kee Marcello and Hawklords so those went out to start with. Further main choices were about supporting bands until Friday night came and we choose wrong. We is Josie and I, as we saw the Flower Kings 16 years ago in Rio, shortly after we met each other. In our memories that was a great show and I do have several FK CD's as well, which always show great musicianship. After a long sound check they started and went on and on without much happening. Their playing is of great level, but boring it looked and after a too long while we left. When Josie went to pick her coat in the AOR hall Tyketto was about to start their biggest hit. The roof came down, with the whole place jumping up and down and from a distance I could see Hans (who became 50 a week earlier) shouting along with Forever Young. Sorry wrong choice as Hans could confirm for him the best show of the weekend. At the end of the festival I missed Solstice playing against UFO.

The Headliners:
The bigger names I could not see all, since they would all play at the end of the evening. On Thursday Credo closed the Prog stage and I was too tired to make the full set, going to the AOR preparty the same happened with La Paz. On Friday I saw a bit of The Pineapple Thief, who did not impress me, missed Focus (a huge success according to Yvon and Rene) and already mentioned the lame Flower Kings performance. In AOR the main names were cliched Bonfire showing their German Rock, House of Lords who were great although lacking some old uptempo classics. Tyketto were brilliant as Hans told, but missed by me. By coincidence we did enter AOR when Robin Beck played her hit, but not my cuppa. On Saturday Prog gave us The Enid (strange and different, but no time) and Fish. Well Fish filled the Prog hall well and always dominates his crowd. Shorter version of the show I saw in Paradiso a usual highlight. In the AOR hall we had some veterans. Semi headliners Love/Hate got good reaction from the hall and in the evening I saw Graham Bonnet for the first time. As I was in doubt to stay full show or go to Fish I guess his performance made me move to Prog after half an hour, not very impressive how good the songs might be. UFO closed the festival and in spite of some debate on how long they were allowed to play they did so in style. Apart from several obligatory classics they also gave us several oldies who did not appear on Strangers in the Night or came shortly after that.

The winners:
Every festival shows some negative and positive surprises. I shall skip the disappointments and concentrate on the highlights. Some unknown bands to me made an impact like Tax the Heat, Arcane Roots, September Code (from Greece) and Welsh band Sankara. The Custodian played there first show ever and I was there. The absolute highlights, because they were new to me and very good or as good ads I hoped for were:
Lawless: Every yin has its yang and to me every complicated Cynic deserves a balls out straight forward Lawless. Original titles like Metal Time, Rock N Roll City, S.O.S., Heavy Metal Heaven and what a great band. In Black Widow Ladies they had the catchiest song of the weekend.
Logan: Unknown to me sympathetic band from Glasgow reminding me of Gun. No attitude just great songs and a band enjoying themselves so why did they not bring any CD's? Ordering one now.
Shattered Skies: Similar as on Progpower 2012 Shattered Skies were a highlight of the festival. It still is all about the energy Andrew. They even promised to release a CD later this year, now got a Tee as support for this great band.

Thanks to Fleur for the runners up, the organization and the friendly people all around from the car rental in Liverpool up to the Hafan Spar Hope to be back one day.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Vengeance - De Boerderij Zoetermeer 15 March 2014

For those who don't know Vengeance. In the Eighties Holland had two much touring bands fronted by slightly mad vocalists and consisting of great musicians: Jewel and Vengeance. I still remember the stage dive trampoline at Jewel shows or the bottles of water and Ms. Haverkamp strip during Vengeance shows. So basically you could go and see them always, being sure of great entertainment. I don't know if at a certain time Vengeance called it quits, but for several years they are back releasing albums and touring. As the musicians have changed over time, vocalist Leon Goewie is still there and  able to entertain slightly more than the average Dutch vocalist. I had not seen them for some years, so I did enjoy hearing their old classics passing by.

While writing several of the best hard rock albums ever made in Holland Vengeance live was also always about humor. When Leon came up duck walking with his grin on the face we knew it was still about entertaining. Starting with some new songs I could hear that the music is still very much OK. Their classic line-up also had a certain Arjan Lucassen later worldwide known for Ayreon fame. These line-up did release several songs that upon hearing again rang that Oh yeah that one bell. "May Heaven Strike me Down", "She is the woman", "Take it or Leave it" and "Rock and Roll Shower" still stand strong and in "Arabia" they even honored my trip earlier this week to Saudi. So Vengeance are still going strong and with their party-creating abilities should be called for by summer festival organizers on a large scale.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Cynic - Kindly Bent to Free Us

Special Editions: Who ever wants to buy a download, while you can order all these extras in beautiful packages? Last year Fish showed how the packaging can already be worth the money spent, while this month Cynic does the same. They actually released a bible and with a poster, a lyrics booklet, a full score (so you can cover them, right!) plus some cards the special edition is pretty complete indeed and again does not fit into the CD rack.

But as it is all about the music anyway, let's focus (pun intended) on that. Releasing a debut filled with grunts and extreme technical metal Cynic developed to much lighter, yet still beautiful areas nowadays. I am in the fortunate position that my musical taste easily covers both extremes, so Focus I still pick up occasionally, while also Aeon Spoke still passes by. After their long hiatus I think they came back brilliant with Traced in Air and that line further developed into the new album. This time it took me several listening sessions, before I started appreciating the CD. Initially it came over as a bit too tame, but now I start recognizing songs I must admit that Cynic are still a band on a creative peak. The nine songs don't come near death metal any longer and the Buddhist atmosphere is so present that you can almost smell the incense when True Hallucination Speaks.

Actually the album is to me a logical follow-up to Traced in Air and EP Carbon Based Atonomy, with similar atmosphere going around. That said I did not yet discover a song that stands out above the rest, like "King of Those Who Know" or "Box Up My Bones" on those releases. Best way to appreciate the songs more shall be seeing them live later this year. Here lays my concern as I think Cynic are a brilliant band, but by creating a category of their own I do not see large masses appreciating their directions. They shall play Graspop in Belgium and somehow I believe they might be too artistic to please large crowds. Brave they are though and bands that go their own way usually are the best, so stop the cynism and up with Cynic.