Archive for May, 2013

Album of the Week 21-2013: Barış Manço – 2023

Despite the fact that music is often seen as a universal language, the language barrier can easily keep music from being universally accepted. Had Barış Manço’s 1975 masterpiece ‘2023’ not been sung in the Turkish language, it would probably have been agreed upon as a masterpiece in progressive Rock. Its spacey synths and constantly changing rhythms would have been in vogue in the mid-seventies and although some of the sounds of Manço’s Anatolian Rock vibe may appear somewhat foreign to the untrained western ear, it’s exactly that what makes the music so appealing.

Manço was, along Cem Karaça and guitar wizard Erkin Koray, one of the three greats of Turkish Rock music. By fusing western styles with Turkish elements – most notably the brilliant melodies from their Folk music – these men created the unique Anatolian Rock sound. Manço mainly released singles prior to ‘2023’, his first true album. A conceptual piece at that. My limited command of the Turkish language prevents me from going into details too much, but there is a great deal of continuity on ‘2023’, with the album being of consistently high quality after the relatively weak opening track ‘Acıh’da Bağa Vir’ (which sounds like it’s been tossed on to have some sort of a single on there), joining Manço on an exciting sonic adventure.

Two very long tracks are accompanied by a handful of shorter ones and all of them work quite well. The title track is a lengthy, largely instrumental track with only a few spoken passages by Manço and a great deal of atmosphere and ‘Baykoca Destanı’ is more of a multi-part suite with a couple of stand-alone songs, the most awesome of which – ‘Vur Ha, Vur’ – was also released separately. It’s only really a medley because of the melodies of the long instrumental passages that open the song returning later. That’s not a complaint though, the song is mind-blowingly amazing.

But the shorter songs are just a good. Even if they’re just short instrumentals like ‘Tavuklara Kışşşt De’, which has some wacky effects, but also some amazing Anatolian melodies. ‘Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayım’ is a beautiful, dreamy rendition of Turkish blind minstrel Âşık Veysel’s renowned song, which I personally knew from Pentagram’s version (they used the title ‘Gündüz Gece’, but it’s the same song). The main riff to ‘Yine Yol Göründü Gurbete’ reminds me of The Doobie Brothers a little, while its uplifting and catchy chorus is reminiscent of late sixties Pop music, closing track ‘Kol Bastı’ has a distinctly psychedelic atmosphere and ditto brilliant guitar leads and ‘Yolverin Ağalar Beyler’, though relatively simple in structure, surprises with its unpredictablility.

All I can say is: don’t let the language keep you from this album. After all, I don’t speak Turkish either, but I thoroughly enjoy this album and in fact most of Barış Manço’s repertoire. Manço did a brilliant job here and so did his fantastic backing band Kurtalan Ekspres, even though bassist extraordinaire Ahmet Güvenç had yet to join at this point. My only advice would be to put on your headphones and join Manço on his marvellous journey to ‘2023’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Baykoca Destanı’, ‘Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayım’, ‘Kol Bastı’

Album of the Week 20-2013: Marillion – Brave

Progressive Rock is quite likely the only genre where you could still get away with releasing a concept album in the mid-nineties. While record label EMI was urging the band to do a quick album with a few hit singles, Marillion spent fifteen months in a French castle, writing and recording what became the best album of their long carreer. Hit singles were few and far between on this record. Instead, ‘Brave’ became a highly complex and richly layered Prog record telling the story of a troubled girl in seventy minutes of immaculately produced, stunning music.

Marillion is one of those bands that produce concept albums that you want to listen to in their entirity. Especially because many of the songs are so linked with the concept, that it would be hard to single a couple of them out. Sure, ‘Misplaced Childhood’ had the monster hit Kayleigh and this one has ‘Hard As Love’, ‘Paper Lies’ and ‘The Lap Of Luxury’ that – admittedly with some imagination – could be seen as singles, but eventually, hearing this album leaves you unsatisfied when not hearing the whole thing. But then again, isn’t that the essence of a good album?

Those of you looking for something easy to bang your head to should better look for something else, but they wouldn’t end up with a Marillion album anyway. ‘Brave’ is an introspective, yet very dynamic album with a perfect tension build-up, so that when Steve Rothery’s guitar adds even a slight edge to its lyrical, David Gilmour-like sound, you really feel it in your gut. Steve Hogarth has the flexible voice to move along with every direction the album takes, able to take the listener with him trough both fragility and melodrama, and Mark Kelly adds most of the atmosphere with layers of subtle keyboard work. However, it’s the fact that no one ever takes the lead that this album works so well; everyone is extremely servicable to the music and the concept.

Selecting separate highlights for an album like this is really senseless, but there are a few standout moments. Hogarth’s passionate vocal delivery on ‘Runaway’ is a guarantee for goosebumps, the climax of ‘Paper Lies’ is simply thrilling, the sparse instrumentation of the title track is hypnotizing and captivating (check out Pete Trewavas’ brilliant bass line!), ‘Living With The Big Lie’ contains a couple of brilliant leads courtesy of Rothery and the epic, multi-part suite ‘Goodbye To All That’ features the entire band firing on all cylinders.

As is the case with the best concept albums, everything is taken care of on ‘Brave’. The production is flawless. Of course you can’t expect any less from a production that took a year and a half, but the sound has just the right amount of reverb and allows you to be a part of the whole thing. And then there’s the iconic album cover. To sum it all up: ‘Brave’ is one of the greatest concept albums of all time. It just needs to be heard and according to Steve Hogarth, it works best in the dark with headphones on. A sound system with a good subwoofer works quite well too.

Recommended tracks: ‘Goodbye To All That’, ‘Runaway’, ‘Living With The Big Lie’

My douze points for 2013

Though generally not a very beloved show for people who consider themselves serious music fans, I always love to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. There’s always a couple of extremely well written songs and a bunch of very talented singers and musicians… And the rest is for laughing value.

For me, 2013 was a bit more interesting than other years because of Anouk representing my country. I’ve been a fan of hers since her fantastic debut single ‘Nobody’s Wife’ and her ‘Jerusalem’ is one of the best songs ever to come from Holland. Of equal importance: she’s from The Hague, like myself. Also, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi wrote the music to one of the songs this year.

This year’s winner, ‘Only Teardrops’ from Denmark’s Emmelie de Forest, had been predicted by the bookmakers for months. And though it’s nowhere near as godawfully annoying as last years winner (‘Euphoria’ by Loreen), the only thing I thought after hearing and seeing it was: “is this it?” A decent song by a good singer, but nothing special at all.

So I’ve decided to share with you the songs that should have made up the top 5 in my opinion. I could have – in the spirit of the contest – went for the most beautiful woman (Norway’s astonishing Margaret Berger, though I hated the song) or the most outrageous act (easily Romania’s Cezar, downright hilarious), but I do consider myself a serious music fan. These are the songs I would definitely find myself listening to again.

France: Amandine Bourgeois – L’enfer Et Moi

‘Hell And Me’ does sound like something that would please Kevy Metal, now wouldn’t it? Regardless, France’s entry this year took me completely by surprise. I had heard recordings of the song throughout the advent of the contest, but Bourgeois’ spirited performance of the track, including a rough edge to her vocals notably absent from the recordings, made it an early favorite of mine. I knew it wouldn’t win, because the performance was rather sober and Bourgeois is a little too plain looking to win over the extravaganza craving of the Eurovision audience, but I’d love to hear this voice rock out some more.

Iceland: Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson – Ég á Líf

Easily one of the more traditional Eurovision entries this year, Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson sung a beautiful ballad in his native language, which would have definitely ended up in the top 5, had it been 1985 or something. ‘Ég á Líf’ (‘I’m Alive’) has this sense of hopeful melancholia that is present in quite a lot of Icelandic music. Gunnlaugsson has the voice to carry this song by both setting the melancholic mood and lifting your spirit within the song. Apparently, he has joined Progrock band Todmobile. Dutch presentor Jan Smit caused something of a stir among my social circle, by saying that Gunnlaugsson looked weird. I seriously don’t see it.

Armenia: Dorians – Lonely Planet

No, not the traveller’s guide. Dorians’ Gor Sujyan is by far – seriously, he probably can’t even see the rest, that’s how far ahead he is – the best singer of this year’s contest. An enormous range, through which he races with enviable ease, hitting every note with just the right amount of power… This is exactly how I like singers to sound. The song, which reminds me of Prince’s fantastic ‘Gold’ at times, is pretty good too, though somewhat of a typical eighties Hardrock ballad. It’s been written by Tony Iommi. You won’t ever hear Black Sabbath doing something like this, but then again: you won’t ever hear Ozzy Osbourne singing this great either, right?

Greece: Koza Mostra and Agathonas Iakovidis – Alcohol Is Free

Amazing! Though being a teetotaller, this song appealed to me immediately. It’s folky Ska sounds reminded me of Gogol Bordello a bit and even though my mom hates the contest, she liked this song, saying it sounded like Madness. I personally love the downright outrageous party atmosphere of the song. With the title being the only English in the entire track, I don’t really know what the rest of the song means, but it sounds good. Energetic and spirited, both in composition and performance. Just look at the performance: these guys know how to start a party. I love the raw vocals of Elias Kozas.

The Netherlands: Anouk – Birds

Okay, I may be a bit biased here. But that has nothing to do with Anouk’s home country or even home town. ‘Birds’ is just a beautiful song, done by Holland’s premiere female Rock singer. The song itself is a bit of a departure from her former work though, sounding more like a James Bond soundtrack than an actual Rock song. I personally love it. The lush strings give the song a dreamy atmosphere and Anouk’s vocals have never sounded so warm. If it was really just about the song, this would have won. As for Anouk herself: being our nation’s number one Rock bitch, I’m sure she doesn’t care that she hasn’t won and has enjoyed the free publicity her new album ‘Sad Singalong Songs’ has gotten. Now go out and buy it.

Album of the Week 19-2013: Deep Purple – Now What?!

Who would have expected Deep Purple to make such a great album four and a half decades after their inception? As much as I am a fan of the band, I didn’t. ‘Now What?!’ is easily the best Deep Purple album since Steve Morse took over the guitar from Ritchie Blackmore and quite possibly their best since 1984 masterpiece ‘Perfect Strangers’. The energy that ‘Rapture Of The Deep’ lacked is present quite dominantly here and singer Ian Gillan has embraced his age-related shortcomings a lot better here. All in all, though the sadly deceased Jon Lord isn’t present here, ‘Now What?!’ is the album Deep Purple should have made after ‘Purpendicular’.

Morse’s sound has always been a bit too clean and proggy for Deep Purple to these ears, but it’s definitely him and the other relative newcomer – keyboard player Don Airey – who really shine on this album. Producer Bob Ezrin – who also captured Alice Cooper’s greatest moments and even produced Lou Reed’s only fantastic album – must have felt the chemistry between Morse and Airey was electric and decided to have them take center stage here. Not that the rest of the band is any worse; Ian Paice is one of the world’s five greatest drummers and still proves why, even delivering some of his most swinging rhythms so far (‘Bodyline’) and Roger Glover recorded some of his most powerful bass lines to date.

But in the end, it’s the songs that make this record. And ‘Now What?!’ contains some of Deep Purple’s heaviest material to date and after the playful ‘Bananas’ and the reflective ‘Rapture Of The Deep’, that can be seen as somewhat of a surprise. Especially after opening track ‘A Simple Song’ beginning like one of the calmer Iron Maiden epics (listen to Glover’s bass chords and you’ll know what I mean), it’s a surprise to hear a band mainly in their mid-sixties (save for Morse, who is 58) stomp as heavily as on ‘Out Of Hand’ and the dark ‘Vincent Price’.

Not that ‘Now What?!’ is without its reflective moments; ‘All The Time In The World’ (no relation to the brilliant Louis Armstrong song) is a strong, laid-back Rock track with a strong lyric, ‘Blood From A Stone’ is a brilliantly written Progrock opus with heavy choruses and brooding verses. Other highlights include the classic Deep Purple sound of ‘Hell To Pay’, the Neoprog-ish Jon Lord tribute ‘Above And Beyond’ – seriously, you can practically hear IQ’s Peter Nicholls sing this tune – and ‘Après Vous’. However, the album’s absolute highlight is ‘Uncommon Man’. This song has a strong build-up from the quiet, Morse-led beginning to the stately, triumphant riff that is an obvious tribute to ‘Fanfare Of The Common Man’. Simply brilliant. An obligatory listen.

Every Deep Purple album released these days is possibly their last. If this is what they’re going to be coming up with, I’d be glad to have them around a little longer. Ezrin pulled some of the musicians out of their comfort zones with spectacular results. Especially Airey strays from his usual, more restrained role. ‘Now What?!’ is an album showing a great Rock band playing a bunch of expertly written songs as if they were still in their prime. And what more could you possibly desire from a band that started in 1968? Highly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Uncommon Man’, ‘Above And Beyond’, ‘Out Of Hand’, ‘Blood From A Stone’

This month’s physical evidence of journalism and photography

Hendrix never gets old. His death is over four decades ago and still, he’s relevant enough to grace the cover of Holland’s biggest guitar mag. Rightfully so, with the feature on his “new” release ‘People, Hell And Angels’ being a very interesting story. And he’s not the only legend that’s been around a while in this month’s issue: there’s an entire workshop devoted to Eric Clapton’s solo style (I’d take Hendrix over him any day though) and our own Claw Boys Claw tell us about the recordings of their brand new ‘Hammer’ album. As for my contributions, there’s an article about the recent Gibson event with Ryan Roxie which is accompanied by a picture I took and other photography by yours truly is on the last editorial page and includes an interview, my “victim” being Gingerpig frontman (and former Gorefest guitarist) Boudewijn Bonebakker. I have reviewed the new Gingerpig album too, as well as the new albums by Burning Rain, brand new Blues supergroup King Of The World, Colossa, Absence and Bullersrug.

If you are interested in the world of drums and percussion, be sure to check out the new issue of Slagwerkkrant. Gracing this cover (and quite a few editorial pages) is Bram van den Berg, who is in my humble opinion Holland’s best drummer. The only article I did was with The Charm The Fury drummer Mathijs Tieken. As you regulars may know, I’m not into Metalcore at all, but we had a very interesting conversation about recording drums and leaving space as opposed to stuffing music with fills. Spoiler alert: Mathijs is somewhat expert at both. I’d expect this guy to be an esteemed producer in less than a decade. Other interesting articles include interviews with Michael Vatcher, Epica’s Ariën van Weesenbeek and the rhythm section of Skip&Die. And then I’m not evening mentioning the wide array of tests and expert courses…wait, I just did!

Album of the Week 18-2013: Amorphis – Circle

Though it’s been over a decade and a half since their magnum opus ‘Elegy’, Amorphis has consistently released good albums since. In fact, attracting current lead singer Tomi Joutsen in 2005 was the starting signal for the band’s strongest lineup yet. The lineup has remained unchanged and the band released a number of stellar albums, with ‘Silent Waters’ arguably being the best until recently. Until recently, because the brand new ‘Circle’ may be the new highlight in the band’s carreer. The album brings together some of the Finns’ most inspired songwriting with one of Peter Tägtgren’s most lively productions so far.

Initially, the sonic quality of the album was what drew me in. The guitars of Esa Holopainen – a master of melodies and as such, one of the world’s most underrated lead guitarists – and Tomi Koivusaari have something of an extra punch when compared to the album’s predecessors. Jan Rechbecher’s drums sound nice and bombastic as well. It’s what makes parts like the monstrous opening riff to ‘Hopeless Days’ or the intro to opening track ‘Shades Of Grey’ leave such a great first impression.

When the initial bombast wears off, the brilliant song material does the rest. ‘Circle’ is quite likely Amorphis’ most dynamic album. The band uses contrasts between strong melodies, somewhat aggressive riffing and more tranquil passages to great effect. Something that especially the album’s first two singles ‘Nightbird’s Song’ and the brilliant ‘Hopeless Days’ profit from greatly. Another instant highlight to yours truly was ‘Mission’. This atmospheric tune, sung completely clean by Joutsen and containing some great harmonies, doesn’t really sound like anything Amorphis has ever done before, but I’d happily invite them to do it more. Closing track ‘A New Day’ has something of a psychedelic atmosphere, ‘The Wanderer’ has a very strong melody and one of the album’s most enjoyable tracks is – ironically – bonus track ‘Dead Man’s Dream’, with its Thrash Metal main riff, killer guitar solo and strong chorus.

Every musician involved is at their very best here. Holopainen is always amazing, but bassist Niclas Etelävuori definitely puts down his best performance (and sound) ever. Joutsen’s vocals are better than ever, with his deep baritone being as good as always and his grunts are more versatile than ever. My guess would be that Tägtgren had a direct influence on that, as Joutsen attemps a few of the higher screams not unlike Tägtgren does in Hypocrisy. Always good to have a Metal album that actually has a lot of effort done on the vocals.

With ‘Circle’, Amorphis once again proves themselves as one of the most unique bands in today’s Metal landscape. No one quite sounds like their mixture of Death Metal, Prog Rock and Finnish folklore. And not many Finnish bands can reach this level of musicianship, composition and production. In fact, not many Metal bands overall can. And if you get the limited edition, the bonus DVD shows the band recording the album. Especially keyboard player Santeri Kallio recording church organ is interesting. Interesting bonus footage, it’s a rarity. ‘Circle’ is a new highlight in Amorphis’ career, one I just might be playing just as much as I play ‘Elegy’, ‘Tuonela’ and ‘Silent Waters’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mission’, ‘Hopeless Days’, ‘Nightbird’s Song’, ‘Dead Man’s Dream’