Posts Tagged ‘ Pop Rock ’

Album of the Week 11-2018: Buck-Tick – No. 0


With Buck-Tick on a surprisingly high second career peak from their 2005 masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’ onward, a new album is always something to look forward to. Especially considering how good 2016’s ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ was. And while ‘No. 0’ isn’t quite as good as its predecessor was, there are a couple of new winners in Buck-Tick’s oeuvre to be heard here. The gothic-tinged first single ‘Babel’ is one of them, but ‘No. 0’ is anything but a return to the dark goth sound of ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’. Instead, it feels either like a logical continuation or an update of ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’.

Compared to ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’, the electronics and samples are a little more pronounced on ‘No. 0’. They are nowhere near as prominent as they were on Buck-Tick’s nineties albums, on which they tend to dominate the productions, but those looking for more of the live sound that could be heard on albums like ‘Tenshi No Revolver’ or ‘Memento Mori’ may scratch their heads in bewilderment. These days, the electronics are a part of the songwriting process rather than the production process and as a result, they hardly ever become overbearing. The electronic rocker ‘Gustave’ and the ballad ‘Moon Sayonara Wo Oshiete’ are borderline though.

‘No. 0’ has a couple of notable peaks. First of all, there is the triptych of the exciting electrorocker ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘, the beautifully dramatic ‘Ophelia’ and the driving “live Buck-Tick meets electronic Buck-Tick” of ‘Hikari No Teikoku’. The latter has a wonderful chorus opening up the climax of the track, while ‘Ophelia’ really profits from its supreme dynamics and Atsushi Sakurai’s unique emotional vocals. The album ends on a high note as well: the aforementioned ‘Babel’ is a sublime catchy gothic rock song, ‘Guernica No Yoru’ a gorgeous minimalistic ballad that leaves Sakurai plenty of space to excel and ‘Tainai Kaiki’ rounds off the album in an upbeat atmosphere.

Before, after and between those songs, Buck-Tick explores the possibilities of their sound. Guitarist and electronic enthusiast Hisashi Imai first and foremost. The aggressive cyberpunk sound of ‘Igniter’ is an obvious Imai contribution, while ‘Nostalgia -Vita Mechanicalis-‘ and opener ‘Reishiki 13 Gata Ai’ have a menacing vibe that is the trademark of the guitarist. ‘Bisshu Love’ features the type of defiant eroticism that Buck-Tick has become known for through the years. By contrast, the songs that guitarist Hidehiko Hoshino wrote are generally more traditional rock songs, though the synth-driven electronic rocker ‘Barairo Jujidan -Rosen Kreuzer-‘ is atypical for him.

Though Imai’s fascination with noise and electronics gives ‘No. 0’ a slightly more electronic edge than its predecessors, it is another typical Buck-Tick album compositionally. The songs may come across a little more chaotic than usual initially, but they feature some tight writing and some excellent hooks for Sakurai to work with. I will be the first to admit that his deep, heartfelt voice is one of the main reasons why Buck-Tick appeals to me, but they have been releasing great albums for quite some time now and ‘No. 0’ certainly fits that pattern. Highly recommended to open-minded fans of visual kei, J-rock, gothic rock and nineties U2.

Recommended tracks: ‘Babel’, ‘Ophelia’, ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘

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Best of 2017: The Albums

After a number of great releases in January, I thought 2017 was going to be an amazing year for rock and metal. In that respect, the year in music had been a little disappointing. There was no consistent stream of good releases, though there were a few clear peaks in the release schedule. Aside from January, March was a small peak release-wise, September a large one, with the last two months of the year having a handful of interesting albums. My top 10 more or less made itself, but I had even more trouble filling the last couple of positions than last year.

Having said that, I was overwhelmed by the number of quality releases from my own country. Being a Dutchman, I am sometimes overly critical of Dutch bands and sometimes unjustly so. Speaking as a music journalist, I would certainly say that 2017 was the year of pleasant surprises from Dutch guitar bands. There were two clear winners for me this year and neither of them is Dutch, but with four Dutch releases in the top ten and seven in the top twenty, I’d say that last year was surprisingly pleasant for a journalist of a couple of Dutch guitar magazines.

1. Firewind – Immortals

Some of the best power metal I have heard in a long, long time. I have always enjoyed Firewind, but the addition of singer extraordinaire Henning Basse to the line-up and Dennis Ward to the production and songwriting team was just the boost that the (largely) Greek power metal band needed. ‘Immortals’ is full off exuberant power metal with anthemic, yet not too cliché-ridden choruses and surprisingly aggressive riffing courtesy of Gus G. The epic feel that the concept about the Battle of Thermopylae requires is prominently present, but never at the expense of the songs, which would not lose any of their power when played “out of context”. Though the Greeks did not win the battle, Firewind did. ‘Immortals’ still makes me grin like an idiot when I play it today.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ode To Leonidas’, ‘Hands Of Time’, ‘Rise From The Ashes’

2. Lovebites – Awakening From Abyss

Lovebites was the only serious competition for Firewind this year. I was ready to dismiss the quintet as another hyped-up girly J-metal band, but both the EP and the album they released this year were jaw-dropping. There’s nothing cutesy about Lovebites: their music has balls. ‘Awakening From Abyss’ is chock-full of high octane riffs, mad lead guitars and excellent heavy metal songwriting. Lovebites combines the best elements of traditional metal and contemporary power metal into a catchy, delicious cocktail with a healthy dash of aggression. Singer Asami, who I had never heard of prior to the EP, is the icing on the cake. Her flexible range and immense power make this an incredible album instead of just a great one.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Hammer Of Wrath’, ‘Shadowmaker’, ‘Liar’

3. Dool – Here Now, There Then

Gloomy, dark, depressive, but always with very distinct melodies. Though ‘Here Now, There Then’ is only Dool’s first album, they already hits all the right buttons. Their immersive sound features equal parts doom metal riffing, psychedelic rock soundscapes and general post-punk nihilism. Listening to Dool is like being surrounded by huge walls of guitars that alternate between weaving intricate patterns and crushing your soul with brutally effective riffs played in unison. Though many bands playing a similar style are marred by subpar vocals, ‘Here Now, There Then’ features some of the best vocal work I have heard Ryanne van Dorst do thus far. She sounds great on her own, but the harmonies are even better. Not for the faint of heart, but an incredible experience.

Recommended tracks: ‘Vantablack’, ‘Oweynagat’, ‘The Alpha’

4. Steve Hackett – The Night Siren

In a way, it is ridiculous that an almost supernaturally talented guitarist like Steve Hackett needs to revisit his Genesis legacy to get the attention he deserves, but if it gives him the means to write and perform a record like ‘The Night Siren’, it has all been worth it. Here, Hackett explores his influences from all over the world and combines them with his own English rock, pop and blues roots. World fusion in the best possible way. The real class of ‘The Night Siren’, however, lies in the fact that Hackett blends these worldwide influences with his own music in a way that does not sound like he is trying to be clever, it just enhances the mood. Again, the atmosphere is immersive and unsurprisingly, Hackett’s playing is nothing short of stellar.

Recommended tracks: ‘Behind The Smoke’, ‘El Niño’, ‘Fifty Miles From The North Pole’

5. Adagio – Life

This was a grower for me. It took some time to do so, but once it did, it was very difficult to stop playing ‘Life’. Adagio really does something new here, which may not be too surprising, since their last album was released more than eight years ago. The tempo is considerably lower and Stéphan Forté’s downtuned rhythm guitars are sometimes reminiscent of the djent-sound, but with Kevin Codfert’s mind-blowing orchestrations and Kelly Sundown Carpenter’s mighty voice, the music has so much more to offer melodically and harmonically. The songwriting is bombastic, complex and melodically strong simultaneously and the record is full of subtleties that reveal themselves over repeated spins. I never was a big Adagio fan, but now I will certainly keep my eye on them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Subrahmanya’, ‘Torn’, ‘Life’

6. Navarone – Oscillation

On the surface, every element that made Navarone’s prior albums so great are in full force on ‘Oscillation’: the great seventies and nineties rock riffs, Merijn van Haren’s massive voice and a rather unpredictable approach to songwriting. Yet, something has changed. The songs are more concise and the band really explores the sonic opportunities of the studio here. And with that comes new possibilities. The surprisingly cinematic ending of ‘Snake’, the contemporary pop sensibilities of ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’ and the progressive splendor of ‘Chrome’ are born from this altered approach. As soon as the initial awkwardness wore off, ‘Oscillation’ turned out to be a very satisfying album by what is arguably Europe’s best rock band at the moment.

Recommended tracks: ‘Days Of Yore’, ‘Chrome’, ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’

7. Jeangu Macrooy – High On You

Before I ever even heard a note of his music, Jeangu Macrooy already impressed me with his moving, powerful voice, which has distinct traces of Bill Withers in it. His music is just about as good. ‘High And You’ is a melting pot of styles which really bring out the best in each other. Large doses of soul, of course, but also pop, jazz, folk and hints of rock and Carribean music. And while many artists who attempt something similar get lost in the maze of their own influences, Macrooy’s warm, almost spiritual voice ties the whole thing together convincingly. What truly helps is that Macrooy’s basic compositions are essentially all excellent pop songs. The profound, yet uplifting ‘Step Into The Water’ would be my choice for the single of the year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Step Into The Water’, ‘Fire Raging’, ‘Head Over Heels’

8. Galneryus – Ultimate Sacrifice

Always highly anticipated: a new Galneryus album. Especially because ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ was announced as a sequel to ‘Under The Force Of Courage’, one of their better records. ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ is a bit more consistent and really finds the band firing on all cylinders. The songwriting leans a tad more towards progressive metal than usual, but not without sacrificing – no pun intended – any of their euphroric, strongly European-tinged power metal sound. One of Galneryus’ best traits has always been their display of virtuosity: it is always there, but not before the song has been clearly outlined. Sure, it is fast and reasonably complex, but ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ is also full of accomplished melodies and it has a remarkable dynamic range for the style.

Recommended tracks: ‘Rising Infuriation’, ‘Heavenly Punishment’, ‘Brutal Spiral Of Emotions’

9. Merry – M-Ology

For years, I have been wanting Merry to make an album like ‘M-Ology’. Not that I did not like their previous albums – ‘Nonsense Market’ is awesome – but the great thing about this one is the fact that the retro feel that made early albums like ‘Modern Garde’ and ‘Peep Show’ so good is finally as prominent as it should be again. Sometimes it feels like a particularly loud jazz band deciding to play a mix of alternative rock, punk, rock ‘n’ roll and traces of metal and blues. I am aware that such description sounds like a mess, but that is where Merry shines: songwriting. All these songs are based around memorable hooks and rhythms that are as energetic as they are danceable. As a result, I did not play anything else for days after ‘M-Ology’ came out.

Recommended tracks: ‘Inugata Shinsei Masochist’, ‘Kasa To Ame’, ‘M-Ology’, ‘Happy Life’

10. Robin Borneman – Folklore II: The Phantom Wail

Navarone made me aware of this great Dutch singer/songwriter. More than half of that band contributed to ‘Folklore II: The Phantom Wail’, but it is still very much Borneman’s record. One that is kind of hard to define, as it sounds cinematic and rootsy at the same time. This is the kind of stuff that takes you on a journey. Just close your eyes and it will come immediately. Sometimes it’s folky blues, but there are also times when it sounds like a spaghetti western contained in a psychedelic rock song, there are hints of country & western… The only true way to describe this is emotional, atmospheric and unpredictable music. No single instrument outshines the bigger picture and the production job is the best I have heard in a long, long time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Woebegone Blues’, ‘O Faithful World’, ‘The Reckoning / Dawn’

11. Galactic Cowboys – Long Way Back To The Moon

If you like heavy metal riffs and vocal harmonies reminiscent of The Beatles simultaneously, King’s X and Galactic Cowboys are basically the only bands you can count on. However, the former’s last studio album is almost a decade old and the latter broke up around the turn of the century. Fortunately, they are back and their new album is their best since their incredible debut. On the surface, Galactic Cowboys may be focusing on their heavy side here, but really, every part of their charm can be heard here. The harmonies, of course, but also their cross-genre approach, their loose jam feel and their ability to let the music breathe when it needs to. To show their fans that they are serious about rekindling their fire, the album even starts with Galactic Cowboys’ oldest song.

Recommended tracks: ‘Amisarewas’, ‘Drama’, ‘In The Clouds’

12. Labÿrinth – Architecture Of A God

When ‘Architecture Of A God’ was just released, I was sure it was going to make my top five. It is, after all, the Italians’ best record since career highlight ‘Return To Heaven Denied’ and almost every song on here is pure gold. Singer Roberto Tiranti is in top shape and as such, he is the perfect fit for the progressive, yet romantic power metal of the sextet. At times, new keyboard player Oleg Smirnoff even pushes the band to different terrain sonically with his unconventional keyboard sounds. And then there are Olaf Thörsen and Andrea Cantarelli, providing all the dreamy melodies and shimmering acoustic guitars you could wish for. It drags a little near the end, but with some of its fat trimmed, ‘Architecture Of A God’ would have definitely made the top five.

Recommended tracks: ‘Still Alive’, ‘A New Dream’, ‘Someone Says’, ‘Diamond’

13. Drive Like Maria – Creator Preserver Destroyer

‘Sonny’ alone is enough reason to get ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’. Seriously, that little mix of melancholic melodies and poppy rock sensibilities is one of the best songs on an album released this year. The rest of the album is equally strong though. ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’ does sound a little different than Drive Like Maria’s earlier albums, as the beautifully soulful, but not too loud vocals of Bjorn Awouters suddenly get all the room they need to excel. Underneath them, there is enough variation to make this material, which was originally released as three EP’s, interesting for an entire album. Sexy grooves, extended seventies rock jams, monolithic stoner riffs and the occasional ballad… Whatever you need, you will probably find it here.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sonny’, ‘Tiny Terror’, ‘Keeps Me Going’

14. For All We Know – Take Me Home

Within Temptation guitarist Ruud Jolie released an incredible solo album under the For All We Know moniker in 2011. That album was full of atmospheric, surprisingly emotional progressive rock and I am very glad that he got the whole band that recorded the debut back together. Especially the partnership between Jolie and singer Wudstik is pure magic. Together, they create complex, richly layered songs that are accessible at the same time. This concept is taken to the extreme on ‘Take Me Home’; the poppy aspects are catchier, the ballads are softer, the heavy riffs are heavier and the complexity is turned up at strategic moments as well. Listening to For All We Know is truly an immersive experience and though it is a pity we had to wait for it for over six years, it is a great thing that Jolie had the time to write, record and release yet another great record.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Big Wheel’, ‘They’ll Win’, ‘Fade Away’

15. Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand

Mastodon is quite likely the only modern metal band I am consistently interested in. Their sludgy guitar sound is offset by Brann Dailor’s busy rhythms and the overall progressive songwriting. Those who thought the band took its melodicism too far on recent albums will be in for a treat. Though ‘Emperor Of Sand’ still contains its fair share of highly melodic choruses, the riff work and the lead guitar sections are more complex than they have been for a long time. The record is full of triumphant guitar harmonies and the three lead singers (Dailor, guitarist Brent Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders) work together better than ever. On ‘Emperor Of Sand’, Mastodon proves that there is such a thing as a metal band aging gracefully without becoming a caricature of itself.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ancient Kingdom’, ‘Jaguar God’, ‘Steambreather’

16. Sven Hammond – Rapture

Notably less polished than their other recent efforts, but no less enjoyable. ‘Rapture’ finds Sven Hammond returning to the raw, almost garage-y soul sound of their earliest records – if those three instrumentals are no nod to Booker T and the M.G.’s, I don’t know what is – but this time, they combine that with their knack for writing accessible songs, as showcased on their previous records. ‘Rapture’ feels like a groovy late night jam session, during which the presence of Sven Hammond’s amazing singer Ivan Peroti requires some sense of structure. The rhythms are driving, Sven Figee’s Hammond organ is nice and dirty and Tim Eijmaal’s guitar alternates between bouncy riffs and subtle coloring. This sounds way more American than a Dutch band has any right to sound.

Recommended tracks: ‘Choosy Lover’, ‘A Right Pickle’, ‘Lazarus’

17. The Magpie Salute – The Magpie Salute

Sad as it is that The Black Crowes are no longer around, The Magpie Salute really is the next best thing. Sure, there is only one original song on this album – I’ve been told an album full of original material is coming in the new year – but what really makes this album is the musical interaction. It is more than obvious that every musician involved has a maximum of respect for the other musicians and the songs they are playing. Jam rock bands have a tendency to stick to the same groove for too long, but every second on The Magpie Salute’s self-titled debut album made me hungry for more music. The album is full of exciting musicianship and the lack of a truly charismatic lead singer like Chris Robinson is cleverly compensated for by harmonies.

Recommended tracks: ‘War Drums’, ‘Omission’, ‘Goin’ Down South’

18. Septicflesh – Codex Omega

If there is death metal in my list, it has to be something special. And it is. Septicflesh has always attracted my attention due to their sophisticated orchestrations, but their songs never appealed to me quite as much as on ‘Codex Omega’. This time around, the orchestra does not just add power to the songs, the songs themselves are already powerful, allowing the orchestra to take them to their logical extremes. There is also a lot of toying around with rhythms, which can probably be attributed to the arrival of new drummer Kerim ‘Krimh’ Lechner, whose rhythms try to find their strength in unconventional accents rather than complexity. Jens Bogren’s immense production job is incredible. Hell, I don’t even mind Seth Siro Anton’s grunts. They enhance the atmosphere.

Recommended tracks: ‘3rd Testament (Codex Omega)’, ‘Trinity’, ‘Dante’s Inferno’

19. Cloven Hoof – Who Mourns For The Mourning Star?

It would be easy to dismiss Cloven Hoof as a mere shadow of its former self on account of the ridiculous number of lineup changes they have had to endure in recent years. But ‘Who Mourns For The Mourning Star?’ is such a euphoric, energetic slab of traditional heavy metal that it is easy to forget all of that. A mix between US Power Metal and the NWOBHM scene they are often associated with, the album is treat for old schoolers. And as many credits as bassist Lee Payne deserves for writing these incredible songs, it is really singer George Call – also known as “gruff Bruce Dickinson” in my circles – who pushes these songs beyond how good they would have been otherwise. New material from an old band that does not sound like a weak rehash. Refreshing!

Recommended tracks: ‘Star Rider’, ‘Time To Burn’, ‘I Talk To The Dead’

20. Black Country Communion – BCC IV

Glenn Hughes, never a poster child for subtlety, was very bitter about Joe Bonamassa walking out of Black Country Communion. So it was all the more surprising that they recorded a comeback album together. And that it was good. Not as memorable as their first two albums, but with a songwriter as strong as Hughes, there are bound to be some winners. Most of it is pure classic rock gold, but there are some folky, bluesy and surprisingly poppy moments as well. Of course, with four musicians this good – and most of them experienced in session work – the interaction is simply excellent. As a result, the longer songs work best. I am not as big a fan of Bonamassa as most people seem to be, but in this context, his playing just works. And Hughes’ voice defies physics.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Cove’, ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Awake’

Album of the Week 05-2017: Drive Like Maria – Creator Preserver Destroyer


After their excellent self-titled second album, things went a little quiet around Drive Like Maria. Luckily, the Dutch-Belgian rock trio is still around. They announced the release of three EP’s that would form the new album last year and that album is finally here. And while it retains the band’s eclectic rock sound – the stoner component becoming less prominent with each release – ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’ has a more streamlined, even somewhat more produced feel than the previous two records, which significantly benefits the catchy and melodic nature of the songs and Bjorn Awouters’ soulful vocals. The result is familiar, yet fresh.

For an album that consists of songs that were originally released on EP’s, ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’ has a remarkably consistent flow. It helps that more thought went into the track sequencing than just throwing the EP’s tracks on front to back. This way, a nice balance is created between the energetic rock songs and the more subdued material and the whole thing sounds like an album rather than a collection of singles. The great deal of variation also contributes greatly to the album’s replay value; Drive Like Maria once again covers a wide range of emotions in a handful of extremely well-written songs.

That range is one of the biggest assets of ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’. If the record was full of pop songs like ‘Taillight’ or ‘I Wonder If It Goes’, there would be a considerable risk that the album would be a boring listen, but because there’s tracks like the heavy opener ‘Nighthawk’, the restrained ‘Sinners’, the dark ballad ‘Will We Ever’ or the upbeat rocker ‘Keeps Me Going’, the album becomes highly dynamic and the songs more or less accentuate each other. Also, the spirited performances elevate the songs above the already high quality of the compositions. Awouters and Nitzan Hoffmann are an excellent guitar duo and his versatility alone already makes Bram van den Berg the best drummer in the Netherlands.

My two favorite tracks on the album appear back to back, like they did on the ‘Creator’ EP. ‘Sonny’ is a melancholic pop rock song with amazing vocals by Awouters and a great build-up towards its dreamy chorus, whilst ‘Tiny Terror’ is more epic in nature and due to its subtle saxophone accents brings to mind the Golden Earring’s early seventies work. The latter shines in the way it slowly becomes more exuberant. ‘Forget’ also feels epic, despite the fact that it’s only 4 minutes long, and ends the album on a very high note.

But really, ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’ is a really consistent album full of memorable melodies, strong performances and an amount of variation that is not all that common in contemporary rock music. Drive Like Maria never was so loud in its rock excess that they would scare away more casual pop rock listeners, but with this record, I would actually encourage people who aren’t usually into heavy rock to give this a listen. Simply because it’s twelve excellent songs performed really well. I’m very curious to hear how this material will sound in the live environment.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sonny’, ‘Tiny Terror’, ‘Forget’, ‘Will We Ever’

Album of the Week 44-2016: Toto – Falling In Between


Forget all the massive hits Toto had in the eighties, regardless of how good some of them were. Forget all the secret hits they had backing other artists. Now put on ‘Falling In Between’. It’s good, isn’t it? I’m sure that selling millions of records considerably softened the blow, but Toto was never taken as seriously as they should have been. Every musician in the band is top class and the band is obviously skilled at crafting good songs with melodies that keep lingering in the back of your mind. ‘Falling In Between’ adds a somewhat more adventurous approach to that and ends up sounding spectacular.

Despite touring behind this record with guitarist Steve Lukather and singer Bobby Kimball as the only original members, chief songwriter David Paich can still be heard on keyboards here and longtime bassist Mike Porcaro makes his last appearance before falling victim to ALS, which sadly eventually cost him his life. Drummer extraordinaire Simon Phillips had been in the band since Jeff Porcaro’s death in 1992 and Steve Porcaro may not be mentioned in the lineup, but has contributed synths and sound design to practically every song, making experienced keyboard player Greg Phillinganes the only “new kid”. And there seems to be some magic in the interplay here.

Of course such a lineup isn’t a guarantee for a good Toto album, but it helps that everyone involved has experience with the sound that makes Toto so good. And it’s all there: the songs are melodic and recognizable, a lot of styles are touched upon without sounding incoherent and there are some displays of virtuosity without sacrificing the catchy nature of the compositions. The relaxed ‘Dying On My Feet’, the exuberant ‘King Of The World’, the uptempo ‘Taint Your World’, the slightly kitschy ballad ‘Spiritual Man’ and the somewhat funky ‘Let It Go’ all sound different, but are unmistakably Toto.

Most interesting are the moments when the band experiments with world music. The suprisingly heavy, proggy title track has a chorus with a vaguely Middle-Eastern flair, while the downright spine chilling ballad ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’ – which features former singer Joseph Williams in its chorus – has a strong African vibe due to its choir arrangements and Lenny Castro’s percussion. Closing slow burner ‘No End In Sight’ ties together all the styles and becomes a strong progressive rock song in the process. ‘Simple Life’ is a short, but moving ballad sung by Lukather.

While latter day Toto didn’t have the huge hits they had in the eighties, their releases have been consistently strong. ‘Mindfields’ was a little overlong, but had a few really strong songs and ‘XIV’ is a pleasant record to listen to. ‘Falling In Between’ is just a tad better than those two and stands as one of Toto’s best records yet. Personally, I enjoy it as much as my early favorite ‘Hydra’. And just like that one, it’s at times progressive and unpredictable, but always melodically strong. And with all the genres they touch upon, it’s never boring. Highly recommended to just about anyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’, ‘Falling In Between’, ‘No End In Sight’

Scandal to tour Europe: “We feel more confident and responsible”


Exactly one week from now, the second European tour of Japanese Pop/Rock queens Scandal will take off in Amsterdam. The band is already quite a phenomenon in their home country with sales numbers many western bands could envy, high-profile sponsorship deals and theme songs for several popular anime series. Their 2014 album ‘Hello World’ seems to have more than a randomly chosen title; the rest of the world is slowly catching up to Scandal. B7Klan offered me the opportunity to talk to guitarists Haruna Ono and Mami Sasazaki, bassist Tomomi Ogawa and drummer Rina Suzuki, all of whom sing for the band as well. One thing is for sure: the band seems to be looking forward to this second European journey.

Rina Suzuki:European audiences are really enjoying the show itself. Japanese audiences can’t enjoy the show unless they actually know the songs, but I really appreciate that European audiences have fun even when they hear the songs for the first time.

This isn’t your first time in Europe. Why do you think only a few Japanese bands consistently tour Europe and America?

Haruna Ono:It takes manpower and money to organize concerts. Much more than you’d think. So in order to organize our concerts, we need to keep making good music and we need the fans’ support more and more.

You quite famously started doing open air shows at the Osaka Castle Park. How different were those shows from what you’re doing these days?

Rina Suzuki:When we played open air shows, we didn’t know anything and we didn’t fear anything. That was a great time, but these days when we play concerts, we feel much more confident and responsible. We want to meet the expectations of the audience.

Many Japanese bands make a clear division between their indie days and their major days. You have dealt with both. Are the differences really that big?

Tomomi Ogawa:We don’t feel there’s much of a difference. Of course there are differences, like the size of the audiences, but we still play the songs from our indie days live. The most important day in the history of Scandal is the day we formed the band, not the day of our debut. Forming the band was really the big thing for us.

There are clear influences from J-Rock bands, but also from western Rock bands in your music. What influenced you when you formed?

Haruna Ono:We all have different influences, but we didn’t start playing music being influenced by bands. When we started, we loved idols and pop singers and we went to the same dance school. One of our teachers advised us to play instruments at the time and then we formed Scandal. At that time, we were strongly influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters, but also Japanese bands like Judy And Mary.

What musicians influence you these days?

Mami Sasazaki:I still often listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters and Two Door Cinema Club.

Unlike many other Japanese bands, your instruments are mainly from American manufacturers. There’s a lot of Fender among your equipment, for instance. Why did you go for these instruments?

Haruna Ono:Because they are so cool! We didn’t choose these instruments because they are made in the USA, but the instruments we like are coincidentally American.

As a band that is not strictly a part of the visual scene, how important is the visual aspect of your shows?

Rina Suzuki:Formerly wearing costumes on stage was very important to us. But the way our career is now, we can freely wear what we want.

Like many Japanese Rock musicians, you are big anime fans. Your songs are even included in a few series. How would you describe this combination?

Mami Sasazaki:Since a couple of years, anime and Rock music are a very good combination to connect us with foreign audiences. This relationship has really opened the entrance to Rock and other Japanese music.

Scandal will be touring Europe until the end of September at the following venues:

10/09/2016 Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Melkweg
13/09/2016 Cologne, Germany @ Luxor
14/09/2016 Hamburg, Germany @ Kaiserkeller
16/09/2016 Wroclaw, Poland @ Firlej
17/09/2016 Wien, Austria @ Szene
18/09/2016 Milano, Italy @ Elyon
20/09/2016 Marseille, France @ Poste a galene
21/09/2016 Barcelona, Spain @ Apolo2
24/09/2016 London, UK @ Islington Academy
25/09/2016 Paris, France @ La Machine

Album of the Week 32-2016: Porcupine Tree – The Incident


For a genre with “progressive” in its name, there have been relatively little young progressive Rock heroes these last years. Steven Wilson has been the last man to be widely accepted as a Prog guru and even though he doesn’t look like it, he is in his late forties. A more positive explanation would be that he set the bar incredibly high and although people like Wilson – to no fault of their own – have an army of admirers incapable of criticizing him, they may be right in this case. Of all his project, Porcupine Tree is easily my favorite, because of its use of dynamics.

Despite being released seven years ago, ‘The Incident’ is Porcupine Tree’s most recent work and features probably their most fully realized material. Personally, I really enjoyed its predecessor ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, but that record was quite driven by the Metal elements that have been present since current drummer Gavin Harrison joined the band and Wilson has been producing Opeth around the turn of the century. ‘The Incident’ truly has the band moving from the calmest Folk sections through the most spacey, psychedelic passages to some surprisingly heavy riffing. As a result, the album stays interesting throughout its entire 75 minute run – spread out over two discs.

The centerpiece of the album is the 55 minute titular “song cycle”. Their words, not mine. It’s not one of those “one song albums” in a strict sense. In fact, the approach more closely resembles a traditional concept album with recurring themes, atmospheric interludes, but also expertly written songs that work very well as stand-alone songs. The dark, melancholic vibe, occasional Pop hooks and the way the obvious musical prowess of the instrumentalists generally a backseat in favor of the actual songs make the cycle feel like a modern take on Marillion’s ‘Brave’, albeit with a vastly different sound.

While I would generally prefer a powerhouse singer over this type of material, Wilson’s soft voice actually works really well with the introspective nature of the music and especially the lyrics. His guitar work is usuall simple, but brutally effective. He doesn’t play a lot of notes – Harrison is the only one who sometimes does – but what he does play resonates icredibly on an emotional level. The middle section of the 12 minute ‘Time Flies’ is the perfect example. This approach has an advantage; when the band does fire on all cylinders, like they do on ‘Octane Twisted’, it sounds highly overwhelming, even though it isn’t particularly complex in terms of composition or musicianship.

After the emotional roller coaster that is ‘The Incident’, the four songs on the second cd sound slightly out of place. It’s not like they’re bad songs; in fact, the abstract rocker ‘Bonnie The Cat’ and the powerfully built-up ‘Remember Me Lover’ are excellent, but they feel a little tacked onto the end of the record because… Well, let’s face it, they are. They may have worked better as a separate release without an epic, mind-blowing 55 minute journey fresh in mind.

Naturally, the conceptual nature of the record helps ‘The Incident’ have a consistency that many of the more disjointed modern progressive acts lack. Most of Wilson’s records do. What makes ‘The Incident’ so strong, however, is the fact that it manages to move all over the stylistic map without ever losing its focus. There’s the Folky feel of early Genesis, the layered Pop of the latter days of The Beatles, the riffy propulsion of Heavy Metal and even the Krautrock influences that were more prominent on Porcupine Tree’s oldest records haven’t faded away entirely. Combine that in a way that won’t make the listener lose his way and you’ve got an excellent record on your hands.

Recommended tracks: ‘Time Flies’, ‘The Incident’, ‘Octane Twisted’

Album of the Week 51-2015: George Harrison – All Things Must Pass


George Harrison’s proper solo debut is easily the best record released by anyone ever involved with The Beatles. The Quiet Beatle’s songs were always my favorite of the legendary British quartet, but one listen to ‘All Things Must Pass’ is enough to make the listener realize that whatever reasons John Lennon and Paul McCartney had for not alowing more Harrison compositions on their records, they weren’t musical. Don’t let the fact that some of these songs were rejected by The Beatles fool you: this triple album is filled with amazing songwriting, a great deal of variation and an almost tangible joy of performing.

While McCartney was probably the best musician in The Beatles, Harrison was always craving musical innovation and that shows on ‘All Things Must Pass’. All of the songs have a strong Pop vibe, but there’s experiments with Folk, Americana, Rock, Blues and Gospel throughout the record and almost all of them are successful. In addition, Harrison assembled a cast of friends around him that consisted of musical legends like Eric Clapton, former Beatle Ringo Starr and the always amazing Billy Preston, while Bob Dylan contributed to the songwriting. But the true power of the album lies within the songs themselves.

Best known are the Gospel-light of ‘My Sweet Lord’ and the uplifting, almost celebratory ‘What Is Life’, but that’s not where the highlights stop. Opening track ‘I’d Have You Any Time’ is a surprisingly brooding ode to friendship, ‘Beware Of Darkness’ and ‘Hear Me Lord’ are brilliantly structured ballads that build toward fantastic climaxes. ‘The Art Of Dying’, which was recorded with what would become Derek And The Dominos, is a driving Hard Rock track with a dark vibe, awesome dual lead vocals and amazing lead guitar work by Clapton. Speaking of lead guitars: this is the record where Harrison’s slide guitar really came into its own.

Much of the album’s criticism is aimed at “Apple Jam”, the third record of Bluesy jam sessions. While I tend to agree that some of them go on a little too long and it would have been better had they been more evenly distributed over the records, it’s a delight to just hear the musicians play without any pretense or assertiveness. Even Phil Spector doesn’t dominate the record; where I usually consider his productions too busy, ‘All Things Must Pass’ sounds exactly like it’s supposed to sound. Harrison, co-producing the record, probably reigned him in a little.

Even people who aren’t necessarily into The Beatles should give ‘All Things Must Pass’ a chance. It’s a lot of material, but honestly: it’s worth it. What you hear here is a music lover with loads of different ideas who is finally free to share them with the world. How can I not love that? And while Harrison would continue to record quality albums afterward – ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Living In The Material World’ and his closing statement ‘Brainwashed’ most prominently – this is still the one that highlights all sides of his broad musical spectrum best. Recommended to everyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Art Of Dying’, ‘Hear Me Lord’, ‘Beware Of Darkness’

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