Sunday, 20 December 2020

Log #221 - Spotting Haken From The Panopticon

Eddy Bamyasi

The heavy rock/metal band Isis are a surprise to me... because I really like them. Why do I like them when I have previously written about how I don't much like "post rock" instrumental bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky or Mogwai? I can only put it down to a significant difference even if I can't quite put my finger on what that difference is. To be fair I heard the band name mentioned in despatches in connection with Tool and Opeth, who I do like. 

Anyway right from the very first power chord Panopticon is a tremendously exciting album. The sound is full on wall of sound - rather like My Bloody Valentine (who I don't know much to be honest - I used to have Loveless but fell out of love, if you excuse the pun, with that possibly overrated album quite early on). The pace of Panopticon is much slower and more ominous than the musically more dynamic Tool and Opeth. In fact some of the music is verging on ambient or drone. But boy is it heavy! 

Melodies are provided by repeated simple four or five note guitar sequences supplemented by long drawn out chords drenched in feedback and sustain, rather like Neil Young's languid playing on Zuma's longer tracks. There are very few vocals - singer Aaron Turner growls but the voice is so low in the mix it is really used as just another instrument in that very thick wall. The other distinguishing feature is clear sharp down tempo drum taps which at first sounded a bit out of place to my ear: these remind me of some of the "shoegaze" bands from the early '90s, particularly Ride. Now Ride had that famous album Nowhere which I, again, had at the time but never really got (notice how the album artwork is similar too). More on that later.

Isis only produced 5 studio albums. The final one Wavering Radiant in 2009 broadened their instrumental palate with more keyboards, without, I'm glad to say, reducing their raw power. 

Generally the music on both albums is simple and goes where you expect in a satisfying way. There are less of the sudden mindbending U-turns you get with bands like Opeth and Tool - hence the drone descriptions. The tracks tend to shift and build gradually usually over 7 - 10 minutes. 

Will I ultimately find this music unsatisfying? I don't think so. Like pure ambient music there is more to discover the more you listen. I think Isis will have staying power at Bamyasi Towers.

So on to the Ride album Nowhere. Was my initial impression from 30 years ago wrong? Well, actually no. I still don't like it. This has got to be one of the most overrated albums in history (were the band just lucky in time and place)? I'm not going to spend much time writing about it here. The 40 minutes or so I spent listening is long enough suffice to say the out of tune singing doesn't help - painful - better off growling. 

There were quite a lot of new rock bands emerging around the turn of the 80s/90s decade weren't there, combining traditional guitar led rock instrumentation with a shuffling dance beat - most disappeared as quickly as they came - Jesus Jones, The Farm, The LAs, Inspiral Carpets, The Wonder Stuff, Charlatans etc. Did any have staying power other than The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses?

Isis - Panopticon
Isis - Wavering Radiant
Ride - Nowhere
Opeth - Sorceress
Opeth - Blackwater Park
Haken - The Mountain

I thought the Opeth trajectory would continue upwards but I was left slightly underwhelmed with Sorceress (their 12th album from 2016). It has several tracks which are right out of the early Love, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd catalogues. It also has classical guitar, bongo drums and strings. 

Mmmm, what did the trad. Opeth fans think of this release? Had they finally taken their prog influences too far? One easy listening instrumental is actually entitled The Seventh Sojourn which is a Moody Blues album title - a rather too obvious homage. I hope it's a grower. Either way it's the first album from Opeth I haven't been hugely impressed with so they are allowed an off day.

Last new album this week and continuing my discovery of nu prog metal I tried The Mountain by London prog band Haken. Honestly this is a whole new world to me. I thought prog music died in 1974 (apart from a tiny revival in the early '80s with Marillion). I had no idea. But of course, every other type of music has been revived so why not prog? I'm just surprised at myself, having been a keen fan of prog back in the day, I had not discovered this vibrant current scene. I guess, good music, like cream, will eventually rise to the surface irrespective of any current trends or fads. 

Opening track is a gentle piano ballad in the style of The Cinematic Orchestra around the time of Ma Fleur. This gives way to the exceptional Atlas Stone - a sort of combination of Rush and Yes. Think that is exceptional? Then hear Cockroach King! Here the band throw in Queen on top of Rush and Yes - in particular the operatic Queen of Bohemian Rhapsody: 

The Cockroach King sits on his throne
With the Midas touch and a heart of stone
An empire built on guile and greed
A bleeding ground for those who heed

In Memoriam is on the face of it a 4 minute rocker, but there is so much packed into this modest timeline it really needs to be heard to be believed. There's a whole Genesis album in this track. 

Because It's There starts with acapella harmonies before moving into skittish jazz percussion and guitar. There are also some distant glitchy effects giving the song a Radiohead flavour, but ultimately it's a beautiful ballad with a moving chorus.

Falling Back To Earth is the longest track on the album at a more traditionally proggy 12 minutes. It's an epic number containing multiple shifts and the deepest metal riffs on the album. Similarly Pareidolia allows Haken to display all their Opeth chops.

The musicianship is amazing throughout but it's the vocals that really standout as on As Death Embraces and the slowly building closer Somebody - singer Ross Jennings resurrects the high clear enunciation of classic prog vocalists Jon Anderson, Geddy Lee and Rodger Hodgson.

The whole album is blindingly technical, but the beauty of what has been crafted here is that The Mountain doesn't feel like an exercise in how to get the most notes out of any given instrument.

Steven Reid 

I realise I've thrown around a lot of casual comparisons and influences here which could lead to a dog's breakfast of a sound. But fear not, Haken offer a unique perspective on the metal prog scene and The Mountain, albeit constantly shifting across a myriad of styles, presents a very cohesive whole. I'm looking forward to hearing more from this talented band.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Log #220 - Animals Is Pink Floyd's Best Album

Eddy Bamyasi

My recent listening to the likes of Opeth, and Eloy in particular, plus a spin of Atom Heart Mother last week, has led me back to some more Pink Floyd this week. 

Wish You Were Here was my favourite album of theirs when I was younger (in fact, my favourite album of all time by anyone for a while). It's still excellent with the centrepiece of Shine On You Crazy Diamond of course, the futuristic Welcome To The Machine, and the rock of Have A Cigar. Objectively the title track is undoubtedly a great song too with brilliant lyrics and a catchy acoustic progression, but now a tad over familiar. 

Meddle is a little aged but quite a step up from its predecessor Atom Heart Mother. The celebrated side long track Echoes is more fully formed than the bombastic Atom Heart Mother Suite and the acoustic songs are better than that album's comparatives.

But actually I now think Animals is the best Pink Floyd album. It's just well, so cool. It's one of the band's heaviest albums, and angriest... pointing the way to the more bloated The Wall which followed, but with only 3 long songs simply bookended by a matching acoustic intro and outro it's a lot more focused. One senses Roger Waters was really beginning to take over the song writing with some of his most politically charged lyrics:

You got to be crazy, gotta have a real need
Got to sleep on your toes, and when you're on the street
Got to be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed
Then moving in silently down wind and out of sight
You got to strike when the moment is right, without thinking

Johnny Rotten in his I Hate Pink Floyd T-Shirt

In the face of political and economic turmoil and the burgeoning punk movement (in actual fact there was mutual respect between quite a few of the old dinosaur rock bands and the new wave of young punk bands - Johnny Rotten actually said some years later that he loved Dark Side Of The Moon) this powerful album released in January 1977 and described by NME as...

one of the most extreme, relentless, harrowing and downright iconoclastic hunks of music to have been made available this side of the sun

...couldn't have been better timed.


Van Morrison - Hard Nose The Highway
Van Morrison - Veedon Fleece
Pink Floyd - Meddle
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
Pink Floyd - Animals
Opeth - Damnation


The famous Pink Floyd pig still floating over Battersea Power Station during the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Log #219 - New Pleasures With Others Remaining Unknown

Eddy Bamyasi


A continuation of my discovery of Swedish group Opeth this week proceeds with one of their classic early albums - their fourth Still Life (from 1999). As an early record from their "death metal" days I wasn't expecting to like it so much as their later work. But actually it was great. The growl vocals are used relatively sparingly and I didn't mind them too much once I'd tuned in. 

Furthermore when lead singer Mikael Åkerfeldt sings cleanly he has a great voice. And the music (and the musicianship) is amazing. Most prominent is the super fast guitar riffing. 

This has got to be one of the band's most powerful albums (but then again there are plenty of gentle acoustic guitar interludes too including the lovely Benighted which has that gentle interlude feel of the quiet tracks on Black Sabbath's massive Master Of Reality album with its reverbed vocal and jazzy finger picking). 

The cover would also indicate a certain Black Sabbath influence and I guess if you played a Sabbath album on 45rpm it could sound like this - Sabbath on speed if you like!

The Damnation album is an odd entry in the Opeth catalogue even in the history of a band not afraid of change. Apparently originally conceived as part of a double album recording sessions were eventually released as two separate albums (Damnation following 5 months after Deliverance in 2003). 

The split made sense as both albums are very unlike each other - the former (which I haven't yet heard) more metal, the latter more mellow prog (you might have thought the titles of each might have suggested the opposite). As such the latter album is a revelation with In My Time Of Need the most beautiful Opeth tune I've heard and the whole album my favourite by the band to date. 

Considering this album came out nearly 20 years ago it is a surprise to me to still read about Opeth fans bemoaning how the band have gone soft relative to their metal days; it would seem they've been "progressive" for a lot longer than they've been "death metal". To be fair it's not like the early albums were devoid of progression (far from it) and the later albums are certainly not soft!



Opeth - Still Life
Opeth - Damnation
Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures
The Enid - Something Wicked This Way Comes 
Eloy - Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes
Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother



It's not a massive jump from Opeth to Joy Division. They are equally dark, well even darker actually. JD were a band I held in a lot of contempt when I was at school in the late '70s for no good reason apart from I thought they were laughably bad musicians (in that respect you couldn't get further poles apart between Joy Division and Opeth). But of course I was missing the point entirely. I was coming from a point of view of liking (or more to the point admiring) the fancy musicianship of prog bands like King Crimson and Yes. The tuneless singing of Ian Curtis, the one note bass playing of Peter Hook, and a guitarist who had to look at his right hand to pick out feeble 3 note leads, therefore didn't do it for me. 

However seeing old footage of the crazed elbow dancing Curtis fronting the band is pretty mesmerising. How did they come over on record though? I'm about to find out with a spin of Unknown Pleasures.

Mmmm, not sure I've been missing much. Save for a few more fleshed out songs on side 2 of the album like Wilderness where the band approach a Doors sound (Curtis was a fan) and the atmospheric I Remember Nothing the majority of the record sounds very basic almost to the point of amateurish. That's not necessarily a bad or unexpected thing (think Velvet Underground) but it just doesn't sound like the band particularly had much chemistry together: It sounds like four young guys jamming in their bedroom each playing slightly different tunes in slightly different keys and time signatures on cheap instruments they've only had a few weeks. It begs the question whether Joy Division would have become so iconic without Curtis's death.

The drummer sounds pretty good though which is no mean feat at a time when electronics were just starting to infiltrate drum beats. I know this album (and band) is a bit of a sacred cow but here I am 40 years later and I'm still not really feeling it. Christ, if I ever come back to this record again I could be 90 years old! That's a grim prospect too. 

Were New Order, who rose from the ashes of Joy Division in 1980, any better? Different as I understand it, not knowing much from them save for Blue Monday of course.

Oh, by the way, the film Control is excellent. The lead actor really pulls off Curtis. It's pretty grim as you'd expect, and just had to be shot in black and white. And one other thing, I saw Peter Hook's current band a few years ago at a festival and they were a highlight of the weekend.

Iconic cover too of course (see top) which is now much more famous than the actual music. A classic of minimalist artwork and fitting for the contents. Those contours make me think of the Misty Mountains in Lord Of The Rings.


Apparently The Enid's Something Wicked This Way Comes was the band's first album with vocals (and their fifth released in 1983). This makes their mostly instrumental music even more "stageshow". The album's lyrical content is apparently about a post apocalyptic reality and not based on the well known Ray Bradbury 1962 novel although the carnival setting for the latter would fit well with the music. 


The most remarkable thing about Eloy's Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes from 1979 is how similar the opening is to Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond (1975). I mean, really similar! Give it a listen. Is it a deliberate homage? It seems too similar to be a coincidence.

After the opening guitar sequence Astral Entrance jumps into that galloping sort of rhythm also favoured by Pink Floyd (particularly on Animals I'm thinking but also think of One Of These Days). Eloy to be fair are often compared to Pink Floyd. Or Pink Floyd with Arnold Schwarzenegger on lead vocals I read from one online reviewer (perhaps a little unfair). The Acopalypse continues the Floyd sound with Clare Torry (The Great Gig In The Sky) like vocals and long Rick Wright synth string chords.


To complete this little tangent final record of the week was a revisit to Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother. This came out in 1970 and was already the band's fifth album. It's still Pink Floyd in development: The sound moving slowly towards a fuller fruition on the follow up Meddle. Indeed the side long title track could be viewed as an Echoes forerunner. However Atom Heart Mother is more baggy round the edges. It has a nice main theme but with it's brass section and choir is somewhat overblown. The best part is a central section where the core band groove (as they do in the central part of Echoes).

Side two, like Meddle's side one, contains some catchy more acoustic numbers - a rock song, an acoustic picker, and a piano track (with some more brass), plus a classic early Floyd piece of avant garde whimsy in the literal form of Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast complete with "found sounds" from Alan's kitchen. Who was Alan? He was Pink Floyd roadie Alan Styles as pictured (left) on the back of the Ummagumma album cover.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Log #218 - Moving Through The Prog Metal Gears With Opeth

Eddy Bamyasi

My recent listening to King Crimson and Tool (and a facebook post extolling their virtues) has led me to Opeth. They are a Swedish metal band. Sounds unpromising doesn't it, and this initial reaction was confirmed as I listened to the opening track of their 2001 Blackwater Park album (as recommended by some Twitter fans as possibly their best) but bear with me as Opeth just could be my greatest discovery of the year! 


Opeth - Blackwater Park
Opeth - Heritage
Opeth - Watershed
The Enid - Invicta
Manu Chao - Clandestino
Cornershop - When I Was Born for the 7th Time


The first impression from opening track The Leper Affinity is off putting to my ear due to the frankly scary thrash/death metal growl vocals. But... I'm so pleased I persevered as the vocals are not exclusively "growl" aka "cookie monster". Some tracks are part "cookie" part "clean" and some are fully "clean". Apparently this was a gradual change for the band that started out firmly in the death metal camp and have gradually over the course of a long career (they were formed in 1989) moved more into prog rock. Of course many of the legacy fans remain perturbed by the change and won't entertain the later albums accusing the band of selling out. 

For a new fan like me it's the other way round: What I've heard of the newer stuff I really like. What I've heard of the old stuff I'm not so sure about on account of the singing (the music sounds great throughout however) - I can't imagine there is a better exponent of metal in terms of musicianship and melody. These boys can certainly play, even if their music isn't your "tea" (as Damo Suzuki once said).  

The Leper Affinity is powerful chugging riff metal, follow up Bleak contains Rush like guitar passages, and the attractive Harvest showcases their frequent use of acoustic guitar strumming with a gorgeous slow distorted guitar lead over the top. The Drapery Falls is simply epic reminding me of the entire Journey To The Centre Of The Eye album by Nektar. It also fits in some Jethro Tull acoustics and latter day Frippertronics on distorted guitar.

Full of gorgeous melodies but still thunderously heavy, Opeth’s breakthrough album is widely and rightly revered as both a classic and a progressive metal benchmark.

Dom Lawson (Classic Rock) 

However it is fairly misleading to single out individual tracks as most contain multiple dynamic changes across a generous length (many tracks are in the 10 minute range). In fact most of the songs could be defined as epic and almost any one of them would be a centrepiece on most rock albums.

Jump forward ten years and we have Heritage which I gather is a real marmite record in the Opeth catalogue. Apparently this is the first album where Opeth went full on prog leaving behind their heavy metal roots (and more pertinently the cookie monster vocals, entirely). 

I love it. I think it's a superb record. Subtle expressive brilliant prog rock employing many of the traits of classic '70s rock (organs - damn, hammond and mellotron no less!, acoustic guitars, banked vocals, jazzy guitar) but with a very modern sound. I can hear many bands in this music (King Crimson (especially in Famine), Camel, Rush, Nektar, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull etc) but probably the one that comes through the most is Radiohead.

I've always seen Opeth as a band without boundaries.

Mikael Åkerfeldt

The whole record sounds like a concept album - more so in the musical themes than any lyrical content which I haven't paid much attention to (aside from his growling roots singer Mikael Åkerfeldt is actually a very nice singer).

For my third forage into Opeth I listened to Watershed, the band's 9th studio album from 2008, and the one before Heritage

Goodness there is so much to take in from these records. The first two tracks on Watershed alone practically cover the whole spectrum of prog and/or death metal. Opener Coil is a gentle acoustic guitar piece with female vocals (the acoustic guitar is very good throughout the Opeth records I've heard). Are the band going to serve up a mellow album? Not at all, second song Heir Apparent is full on heavy metal with that growl... but not always, there's clean singing and classical guitar and flute too. It shouldn't work, but it does. It's amazing what this band pack into 8 minutes. They do it immediately again on the identically lengthed The Lotus Eater.

Indeed the band have been accused of a lack of continuity in a lot of their song writing with seemingly unrelated parts being randomly strung together to form a whole. But isn't that what a lot of prog was like back in the day anyway? I'm sure Foxtrot or Close To The Edge could have gone off in any number of different directions on a whim.

Akerfeldt's clean vocals soar on this record never more than on fourth track Burden which is an epic stadium filling ballad. He so reminds me of another singer but I can't figure who that might be [It could be Tim Smith from Midlake, or Roye Albrighton from Nektar, or is it one of the old King Crimson singers Greg Lake or John Wetton? Ed]. These sorts of more restrained one paced songs are easier to take in, stripped of the trademark sudden structural changes. But even this one finishes on a bizarrely unusual detuned acoustic guitar passage (there is lots of acoustic guitar on this album too).

More acoustic guitar (and strings) drives the first half of the 11 minute Hessian Peel. Then there's some electric guitar, then a quiet piano passage, and then death metal growls and heavy riffing. Just a typical Opeth number then, although this could be the last ever Opeth song with death metal cookie monster singing? Is that actually the case? - I don't know yet.

The final track is perhaps the best of all. It's a little different from the rest of the album. The pace is understated, the guitar is jazzy, with a rising Fripp like scale chorus, and the whole piece is framed by mellotron keys. I've said it before but, again, this multi part track is like a whole album all of its own, yet it's "only" 7 minutes long. There aren't many bands that can create such "efficient" prog, perhaps Rush in their mid period around the time of Permanent Waves were one. Sadly most of the prog pioneers of the '70s floundered after that decade. If they had been able to adapt to making music like Opeth they may have survived longer (perhaps King Crimson have bucked that trend remaining relevant for longer than other contemporaries with two significant shifts in style in the '80s and '90s). Similarly what's particularly impressive about Opeth is they aren't afraid to experiment or change, even at the risk of alienating existing fans (who have generally stayed loyal to be fair). Each album sounds different and a progression from what came before. 

So lots of future listening sorted for the blog there with Opeth having produced at least a dozen albums themselves and having opened the door to more "prog-metal" bands I've never heard like Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, Mastodon, and Isis (and maybe even old skoolers like Metallica and Iron Maiden?). 

The Enid record is very different. Not only from the previous Enid album I played last week, but pretty different from almost anything I've heard. I can't quite decide if it's a non entity or brilliant. 

Much of the character is given by the vocalist. Originally I thought the vocals were female and/or a choir but it's actually (for the most part) singer Joe Payne. His high falsetto voice makes some of the music sound like Queen or Sparks.

There are passages of outright beauty on this record. Unfortunately it's not consistently maintained across the whole 9 tracks and 53 minutes. But there's enough there to provide a fascinating album which could become a major grower at Bamyasi Towers.

The stunning opening track The One And The Many provides an almost religious experience with some gorgeous chord changes over its ten minutes of orchestral opera. Actually you know what its like - that famous (and much used in adverts and the like) song from the Dido and Aeneas opera.

Heaven's Gate is the sort of track I don't really get. It's just a pure classical piece, quite bombastic. Classical pop really. Villain Of Science is a bit stageshow - Andrew Lloyd Webber, albeit with some rare electric guitar.

But these are the weaker moments only. Overall it's a curious, yet ultimately satisfying mix of classical and rock. Symphonic pop if you like but in this edition with much more depth and gravitas than I found on that Aerie Faerie Nonsense from last week.

Finally two fillers in the back end of the magazine this week (which someone else slipped in there without me noticing) with the Cornershop album (this was briefly of interest to me when they had that hit Spoonful of Asha or something which is on this album), and the Manu Chao album (this was briefly of interest to me when he had that hit King Of The Bongo or something which is on this album). 

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Log #217 - Splashdown (Into the Ocean from the Stratosfear)

Eddy Bamyasi

After the success of Lateralus last week I doubled down with TOOL's most recent album Fear Inoculum.

Invincible sounds very much like Rush with the picked guitar and latter period Geddy Lee like vocals.

7empest is epic and the opener is very powerful.

The drumming is obviously very busy and front of mix in this style of full on nu-metal and the guitars are generally of the chugging variety - not an awful lot of soloing even in such lengthy songs.

Could it be a bit samey after a while? Not so far, plenty to enjoy here, and I think I even prefer this album to Lateralus. These boys should go far.

Tool - Lateralus
 - Fear Inoculum
Tangerine Dream - Stratosfear
The Enid - Aerie Faerie Nonsense
Eloy - Ocean
Van Morrison - Into The Music

I was slightly disappointed with Stratosfear though coming as it did (1976) slap bang in the middle of TANGERINE DREAM's "heyday". It doesn't seem to develop their sound much and gives me the impression of treading water with "random" synth melodies over trademark pulses. 

The title track which kicks off the album is one of the band's most commercial pieces with a predictable melody and one of those Edgar Froese guitar solos which sound a bit random to me without adding anything to a track.

I respect their synthesizer textures in theory, but these guys should leave the accessibility to Kraftwerk. When they program in received semiclassical melodies and set the automatic drummer on 'bouncy swing,' the result is the soundtrack for a space travelogue you don't want to see.

Robert Christgau 

Stratosfear points the way towards the more developed rock sound TD would master on Force Majeure 3 years later.

Years ago I had an album by English classical prog group THE ENID called Six Pieces (1980). I can't remember much about it apart from it didn't really grab me (by definition presumably). 

Aerie Faerie Nonsense was the group's second album released in 1977. It's an oddity. It actually sounds like symphonic classical pop music (the emphasis on pop meaning the music is awash with upbeat melodies). I can't even tell if they actually recorded with an orchestra (there doesn't seem to be a mention of this in the sleeve notes but it certainly sounds like it). Other than that the music centres around founder keyboardist Robert John Godfrey, with some rock guitar and drums, but it's mostly orchestral and entirely instrumental (the slimmed down parts consisting of just a conventional rock band appeal to me more than the overblown orchestral flourishes). 

There are moments that remind me of some of Camel's instrumental work, especially The Snow Goose. Perhaps this was the sort of music the naff instrumental "supergroup" Sky were striving for?

Apparently some of their albums did have vocals and I'll source one of them before filing the group away in the "tried that once" drawer.

The ELOY album is more to my liking. This German prog rock band is, surprisingly, new to me. Of course I've heard the name but this is the first time I've ever heard any of their music... and it's pretty good. 

It isn't massively new or different - many comparisons to Nektar and Pink Floyd can be made (and Grobschnitt too but I'm undecided if that is just because of the vocals), but nevertheless Ocean (their 6th album, also from 1977) is excellent at what it does and can take its place proudly among the offerings of those 2 (or 3) contemporary prog bands.

Both Eloy and The Enid are still going in various forms. Two bands I'd mixed up together in my mind's eye (most likely just because of the similar names, as the actual music is quite different).

VAN MORRISON is currently my second favourite artist (as judged by frequency of plays in my CD player!). However I am yet to hear all of his albums and at my age time may be running out (I should at least commit to hearing everything up to the end of the '80s). I came to Into The Music (his 1979 offering) after reading an album ranking that, surprisingly, put this at No.1.

There is no doubt that Van, as always, has a crack band behind him as they race through these jaunty tunes - both of the string (Astral Weeks template) and brass (Moondance template) variety, often employed together in these tracks.  

I prefer Astral Weeks to Moondance and generally therefore like his stringy folky albums (like Veedon Fleece) more than his souley brassy ones (more prevalent in the '80s and beyond). In fact the strings on this album remind me of the raw fiddle playing of Scarlet Rivera from Bob Dylan's superb Desire album especially on one of my Van favourites the life affirming And The Healing Has Begun, albeit they do dip into The Chieftains territory on one or two of the lighter weight songs..

He's in fine voice too, a little more age and gravel, supplemented by abundant choir.

Into The Music is a good "later period" more commercial Van album, but certainly not his best.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

SAHB - Rock Drill Reviewed

Eddy Bamyasi

Rock Drill was the last proper SAHB album (SAHB did record another album Fourplay between Stories and this one, although bizarrely without Harvey who was equally bizarrely otherwise engaged working on a Loch Ness monster documentary!).

Although often considered a bit of a non event and largely disowned by the band who were slowly disintegrating at the time (keyboardist Hugh McKenna had already left being replaced by Tommy Eyre who would stay for Harvey’s following solo albums), Rock Drill does, to be fair, contain some inspired moments despite some degree of general incoherence.

In its best moments the album continues where SAHB Stories left off, extending further into a more progressive heavy rock sound. The first three tracks are excellent ranging from the heavy metal title track, through the progressive The Dolphins (considered “one of the best things we ever did” by guitarist Zal Cleminson) and the straight forward rocker Rock N Roll with its Adam Ant like jungle drumming (a percussive style that appears on several tracks).

But tracks like the instrumentals King Kong with strings and Booid with Scottish pipes are confused and ultimately pointless, and the album finishes weakly with the country style Mrs Blackhouse although not before a welcome return to basics with the Zeppelin/Stones swagger of Who Murdered Sex and Nightmare City. Oddity Water Beastie was no doubt inspired by Harvey’s recent Loch Ness monster research.

Disappointingly another track No Complaints Department was oddly pulled from the final pressings at the last minute apparently at Harvey’s personal request:

So my best friend died in a plane crash
my brother was killed on the stage
So don’t be upset if I’m angry
and seem in some kind of a rage

Although by no means as weak an album as some critics have made out Rock Drill, not unlike many of Harvey’s records, is a two thirds decent record that doesn’t quite match the consistency of his best work.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Log #216 - King Crimson To Tool

Eddy Bamyasi

Tool Lateralus Album Cover

So the provenance of this week's listening is really via King Crimson. Specifically that band's last 3 albums which were of a style of music I was not really familiar with before. It sounded a bit like Heavy Metal but much more complex and progressive. So Prog Metal is unsurprisingly a term you could apply. But I've also heard the terms Nu-Metal, Industrial-Metal, Alt-Metal and Stoner-Metal. 

I heard that this version of King Crimson (circa the turn of the millenium) had toured with Tool. I can't say I've even heard of Tool before let alone any of their music. Possibly in the distant recesses of my mind I had an inkling they might be some sort of thrash metal band.

So Lateralus was a nice surprise being an excellent album of powerful heavy rock displaying the speed and musicianship of a band like Rush plus the chunky riffs of Black Sabbath = Metallica?

Comparisons are perhaps unfair as Tool do sound unique in my experience. They've only produced 5 albums over nearly 30 years so it won't take me long to catch up on the whole catalogue.

Save for a bizarre sarcastic review in Pitchfork where the music is described as excellent but the score is an appalling 1.9, Lateralus seems to be universally acclaimed. 

Tool - Lateralus
The Acid Mothers Temple and the Cosmic Inferno - Starless and Bible Black Sabbath
Primus - Sailing the Seas of Cheese
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew CD 1
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew CD 2
Steve Hillage - Rainbow Dome Musik

What the hell is this Starless and Bible Black Sabbath? Suffice to say it's nothing like either Black Sabbath or King Crimson. The album, if you can call it that, consists of one 35 minute noisy metal thrash in which I think I counted two chords, and one better single track of very shouty fast metal, but to be honest I wasn't really listening by then. 

The cover is a homage to Black Sabbath's debut album, the music not so much

The trading standards should be on to The Acid Mothers Temple and the Cosmic Inferno about that mis sold album title.

I span the Primus album, again, on hearing them being compared to modern King Crimson (there is a vague connection to both KC and Tool in the music-map below). 

I didn't like it. It's unusual and original in a way although the singer sounds more manic than the guy in The Decemberists and the over intrusive bass punch is straight out of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. No, no, no likey. An acquired taste (one that I probably haven't got time to acquire)?

I return to Miles Davis fairly frequently in my listening. The Bitches Brew album is of course one of his famous jazz fusion excursions from the early '70s. Is it sacrilege to say I enjoy the jazz rock fusion grooves more when Davis isn't playing?

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Can's Sacrilege? - Eddy reviews the remixes

Eddy Bamyasi

As the title suggests this album of Can remixes was a risky project but it actually works pretty well and there are some exciting reworkings here which have, on the whole, been praised by the band… except Damo Suzuki that is:

It’s not my tea.

As befits the era Sacrilege (1997) consists mostly of remixed instrumentals of original tracks in the drum and bass style. Therein lies the issue. As the original Can songs are already very drum and bass heavy the artists behind this project struggled to improve upon the fab originals. It wasn’t enough to simply add some banging beats and funky drummer fills. Brian Eno sums up the problem:

Any attempt to do anything rhythmic against Jaki is an insult to his beautiful, spare playing, and just fills up the gaps he so gracefully left.

Eno’s track, Pnoom, is one of the most interesting (although it is a shame his version of Uphill has never surfaced). The 56 second free form jazz honker is given new clarity and light.

Probably the most successful tracks are the ones where the re-mixer has given up attempting to better the original and has created something altogether different. Irmin Schmidt states that he enjoyed Tango Whiskeyman but didn’t recognise it! You Doo Right is a case in point where the original basic riff is turned into a magnificent Ibiza style anthem!

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Log #215 - The Sparks That Still Burn

Eddy Bamyasi

If you are near my age and grew up watching BBC's Top Of The Pops in the '70s chances are you will only know Sparks from their weird appearance singing This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us. This song, most memorable for hyperactive singer Russell Mael's high pitched falsetto and older brother Ron Mael's deadpan keyboard playing and sinister looks to camera, was a #2 UK hit in early 1974.

[That song] was written in A, and by God it'll be sung in A. And no singer is gonna get in my way.

Songwriter Ron Mael  

And that was it? Actually no. Unbelievably this band of brothers was formed in LA in 1967 and are still going today. Their most recent album A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, released this year, was their 24th! That's pretty impressive for apparent "one hit wonders". Were they actually "one hit wonders" Ed.?

No, they actually had several hit singles and well charting albums (including some recent ones). The band have achieved 6 Top 20 singles in the UK charts (all in the '70s). Ed.

Hearing the band in an album context for the first time I was expecting a series of similarly quirky keyboard songs along the lines of their big hit. Indeed there are a few that recall this vaudeville entertainment, but actually Sparks were more a glam rock band with a drummer and guitarist, than a novelty pop duo, and were fairly close to Sweet or T-Rex, or even Queen or David Bowie at the time. Not surprising considering this album, their 4th, also came out in 1974. 

With the times they moved to more electronic disco sounds later in the decade with songs like Tryouts For The Human Race and The No.1 Song In Heaven.

The Comet Is ComingTrust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery
Miles DavisJack Johnson
King CrimsonThe Construkction Of Light
The Mahavishnu OrchestraInner Mounting Flame
Return To ForeverRomantic Warrior

Further new entries in the player this week extend my recent interest in jazz, or specifically jazz fusion, inspired by Return To Forever and, especially, The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

I continue to struggle a bit to "get" the The Comet Is Coming album which came near the top of my local record store's Top Albums Of The Year last year. It's extremely busy and the brass is pretty grating. I prefer Miles Davis' Jack Johnson which is much closer to heavy rock with John McLaughlin's gritty guitar to the fore - definitely one of Davis' heaviest albums. 

The Construkction Of Light is also one of the, or the, heaviest King Crimson album(s). I think it's brilliant and it has actually become my favourite out of the band's last 3 albums I reviewed back in log #208, and actually pretty close to one of my favourites overall. Oddly the reviews weren't great at the time and it was certainly considered weaker than the albums that surrounded it, Thrak and The Power To Believe, but for me it has strength in its individual tracks and in its overall "albumness" (a new word Ed. which I've just made up to describe the overall aesthetic of an album where the wholeness does not necessarily equate to the summation of the parts). I'm still working on my King Crimson album ranking and Construkction has potentially moved up two or three places this week.

Friday, 6 November 2020

John Martyn / Well Kept Secret

Eddy Bamyasi

Released in 1982 just one year after the excellent Glorious Fool is it fair to ask if Well Kept Secret was the beginning of John Martyn's long decline? Sure Martyn wholeheartedly embraces the production values of the day and the tracks are submerged in keyboards and easy listening bass and saxophone. However to be fair the songs are passable retaining some hints of the immediately preceding albums, said Glorious Fool and the harrowing Grace and Danger. They just aren’t very memorable and there’s no way songs like this would have passed the quality control on earlier albums.

You Might Need A Man is a catchy upbeat number that reminds me of Perfect Hustler from Glorious Fool. Love Up is similarly upbeat but very corny with an awful sounding heavily treated guitar riff and Hiss On The Tape is light hearted/weight. The soppy lyrics don’t help as evident on the weak love song that finishes the album — maybe Martyn had been hanging out with Phil Collins too long.

Nevertheless the voice is still strong, and clear, and high in the mix. The slightly corny grizzly cracks in the vocals, which became more and more prominent on later albums, are employed with restraint. But after the impressive Glorious Fool this, his second and final album for the WEA label, was a disappointing follow up which set Martyn on the road towards irrelevant easy listening.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Log #214 - Van Morrison's Uncommon One

Eddy Bamyasi

Common One from 1980 is a bit of a forgotten outlier in the Van Morrison catalogue. For me it sounds like a mix of Astral Weeks* and Avalon Sunset ie. the freeform stringy impro of the former (especially on the extended stream of consciousness Summertime In England) merging with the sax and organ groove commerciality of the latter (like on Satisfied). I can forgive Van banging on about all his favourite poets again in the former (Joyce, Blake, Eliot, Wordsworth, Coleridge etc).

*Having said that the dynamic brassy Spirit with its strident chorus reminds me more of the Moondance tracks.

The album ends with the ambient When Heart Is Open. This lengthy peaceful piece has elements of Small Hours by John Martyn.

No wonder the rock critics of the time didn't get it; this is music outside the pop mainstream, and even Morrison's own earlier musical territory. 


There's no doubt that Van Morrison was attempting something a bit different with this easy listening laid back jazz infused album. An approach that yields mixed results. Critics were initially unimpressed but over the years Common One has become a bit of a lost Morrison classic. I wouldn't quite go that far but it's certainly a pleasant unobtrusive record that I can imagine putting on in the background on a rainy Sunday afternoon (like a lot of his others actually). 

I love the cover, and it graces this week's post.

Van Morrison - Common One
Depeche Mode - Violator
Chicago - Greatest Hits
Weather Report Heavy Weather
The Mahavishnu Orchestra Inner Mounting Flame
Return To Forever Romantic Warrior

The beginning of Romantic Warrior surprised me. Medieval Overture opens with a Terry Riley like keyboard pattern, before it veers off on a number of tangents. Just in this 5 minute track alone I can hear so much: Yes, Rush, Philip Glass, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Pat Metheny, King Crimson and Frank Zappa. The musicianship is astounding - a particular shout out for the drummer Lenny White who ratta-tats away like a maniac.

Who were they? - well, as it turns out although I've never heard of the band I have heard of the individuals (and I have seen the album cover around before, although I may be mixing it up with the Quicksilver Messenger Service one?). 

Chick Corea – keyboards
Stanley Clarke – bass
Lenny White – drums
Al Di Meola – guitar

It's somewhere in between my other jazz fusion discoveries of recent weeks - Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra, but much nearer the latter.

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Saturday, 31 October 2020

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy at Peace? Master and Everyone

Eddy Bamyasi

The voices in Will Oldham's head that speak to us via his Bonnie 'Prince' Billy incarnation are not peaceful ones. This is an album of universal questions, asked on a personal level. What role does traditional love hold in the modern world? How does one reconcile the undeniable evil in us all? Heavy stuff - but all these questions relate to Oldham alone. The outsider looking in.

It's a long decade since, as a post-rock contemporary of fellow Louisville legends Slint, Oldham (along with sibling Paul as Palace/Palace Brothers/Palace Sound) started searching for a new American music. With an exponentially decreasing brouhaha, successive releases have shorn slick production values until he reached the zen-like clarity of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. Last album, Ease Down The Road was a far jauntier trip, but this time it's all ambient foot-tapping, sighing electronica and hushed harmonies. This is hardly suprising as Master And Everyone was produced by Lambchop's Mark Nevers, whose Is a Woman had the same whispered vibe.

This gorgeous album however replaces Kurt Wagner's pantheistic joy in small things with a more carnal slant on life's mysteries. "Let your unloved parts be loved" he mutters in the opener, The Way. Previous reviews of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy seem to have downplayed his influence on master magpie, Beck, yet it's this track that proves the fact irrefutably.

Like Beck he's not frightened of mixing bluegrass religiosity, slacker nonchalance or even English folk rock. Duetting with Nashville professional Marty Slayton on several tracks, they summon the ghost of Sandy Denny. The title track even resembles a stripped down reel. Yet it's the ambivalent lyrics that draw you in - balancing tender love songs (Ain't You Wealthy, Ain't You Wise?) with explorations of biblical evil, only to deflate the whole enterprise with a song like Maundering (it means talking drivel - look it up). It tells you straight that he's just a very flawed man, on the lookout for redemption - and with a tendency to ramble. In the end it's all about infidelity and indifference.

Even a song called Joy And Jubilee hardly convinces you that this is a happy world to visit. As American gothic goes, this is far more compelling and convincing than, say, Nick Cave's cartoon baptisms of fire.

Finally, the key track seems to be Wolf Among Wolves, with its plea to let Oldham/Billy be loved for what he really is. The biggest question seems to be; if we are evil, why can't we accept it? This is a peaceful album, but it contains very little peace.

Review by Chris Jones (2003) shared by CC with scoring by E.B.

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