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Insomnia
Insomnia
Price: 12.57

5.0 out of 5 stars A more direct offering from one of prog rock's best kept secrets, 12 Jun 2013
This review is from: Insomnia (Audio CD)
Returning after an absence of close to 10 years are the American rockers Mastermind. Led by brother guitarist/vocalists Bill and drummer Rich Berends the band have built up an impressive back catalogue before seemingly disappearing from the scene after 2000's "Angels of the Apocalypse" which saw release on Inside Out.

Now the band are back after an self released ep in 2005 with their seventh full length album in "Insomnia" released on Lion Music on Feb 19th. Long time band cohort/guest Jens Johansson (Stratovarius/Malmsteen) provides keyboard solos whilst the album marks the album debut for vocalist Tracy MacShane, a female vocalist with a great ballsy voice. Often labelled as prog rock band the band exhume some prog rock sensibilities on `Insomnia' but mostly this is hard rock covering a wide gamut of styles that fall under the rock banner, all well played written and aided by a nice warm production.

Opener "Desire" sets the ball rolling in fine style, pretty straightforward in style and intent but home to a catchy melody and a thunderous bottom end. "Break Me Down" is more left field, darker, slower, moodier and not without some stoner properties. The riffs are slow, doomy and satisfying, however the band travels into a glorious more up-tempo solo section where Bill gives his vintage Gibson a nice workout with his fluid, liquidy warm tone and the orchestration builds beneath before working its way back to the chorus. "One More Night" sees a nice airy acoustic vibe enter with Bill giving us a lead vocal before the track builds for the chorus. The solo sees Bill build layers of guitar in a more textural way than a typical solo before the dual vocals harmonise nicely. "Meltdown" seems to exhume some dark Seattle alternative flavour and its dark vibe pictures a visual nightmare of sorts. McShane uses her voice in a variety of ways here showing her versatility, the track's icing comes in the guise of a superbly dirty toned solo from Johansson acting like a red rag to Berend's bull guitar - very nice.

"Piggy World" is home to an aggressive spiteful vocal delivery from McShane, which despite its aggressive verses finds some melodic resolve for the chorus. The track does feel a little out of place to the rest of the album but is still likeable enough. "No Answer" is much more laid back, almost introspective in its approach with a great melancholic feel whilst the heavy riffs and more classic melodies return for "Broken" which has a nice exotic feel to it. Being home to an almost trance inducing chant line refrain, the track marks McShane's finest vocal performance on the album along with another fluid solo from Berends, arguably the most accessible track on offer.

"Night Flier" will appease all 70's prog enthusiasts with its instrumental format and fusion/jazz feel. Berend's guitar takes off in a big way here and again Jens Johansson helps build more tension with his keyboard solos. "Nietzsche" comes across as a fusion of Pink Floyd but with a darker, more troubled vibe. Largely thanks to the machine like vibe of the throbbing bass and drums which lead way to more layering from the guitars whilst Johansson's keyboard tone here send shivers down my spine - tantalisingly scared but warm at the same time, the track finds a nice resolve at its conclusion leaving my nerves calmed somewhat. "Last Cigarette" closes the album in more dark style, with a variety of parts laid across its slowish tempo yet is a nice finisher.

With "Insomnia" Mastermind have produced a very solid seventh album with a sound that is unique to the band, yet at the same time classic in its approach. Sonically the band have their own sound happening with the warm production, kudos go to Bill and Rick Berends for producing such a warm and individual sounding album (and McShane for a great vocal performance), which took me back to the days when sound production helped shape an albums character. "Insomnia" is such an album with its own character, its a dark album in a lyrical sense, heck even the album title hints at this and you wonder if the band have slept for the last decade? Perhaps now the album is done they can rest easy in the knowledge they have produced a very enjoyable, individual and skilful release in "Insomnia".

Readers wanting an original slice of rock music that will reward further with each listen check out the album now.

Hot Spots : Desire, One More Night, Night Flier, Nietzsche

As featured on my site virtuosityone.com


Growing Apart
Growing Apart
Price: 7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid rock offering featuring Goran Edman and Scott Rockenfield, 12 Jun 2013
This review is from: Growing Apart (MP3 Download)
Headless were a band that were kicking around in the late 1990's, they disbanded in 2000 but have seen fit to reform under the watchful eye of guitar duo Walter Cianciusi and Dario Parente, making up the core of the band is vocalist Goran Edman, he of some of the finest pipes to have come out of Scandinavia. Completing the lineup is guest drummer Scott Rockenfield of Queensryche fame for the bands come back "Growing Apart".

Stylistically Growing Apart sits somewhere between straight metal and hard melodic rock mixed with some progressive elements, all tracks are listenable and accessible from the first spin and to be honest this is a very good collection of songs with good performances from all involved.

The promo literature states that the music was built around the drum rhythms of Rockenfield, fortunately this doesn't sound like musicians trying to lay down music to drum rhythms, instead its well written, focused and with good arrangements. Edman contributes strong vocals and melodies and throws down some interesting vocal harmonies on the likes of "Primetime", "The Backstabbers Around Us" and the title track. Cianciusi and Parente prove themselves to be more than capable guitarists, who also know the art of restraint when it comes to lead time too.

Overall, a good album worth checking out.


Galahad Suite
Galahad Suite
Price: 7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best concept album of 2013? Maybe, 12 Jun 2013
This review is from: Galahad Suite (MP3 Download)
Described as "Epic storytelling with an all-star cast make Anton Johansson's Galahad Suite one of the best concept albums you will hear in 2013" is rather a bold claim by label by Lion Music and you'd be right for being sceptical with such fanfare, for starters I imagine few have heard of Anton Johansson who played with Mister Kite a few years back, but delve deeper and you'll discover the fanfare might not be so wide of the mark after all.

With a sound that runs across progressive rock/metal, melodic and hard rock grounds with equal measure, "Galahad Suite" is the result of an idea that has been in the head of former Mister Kite member Anton Johansson for almost 30 years and features an array of talented musicians including Linus Abrahamson (guitar and bass), Carl Lindquist (vocals), Mats Bergentz (Drums), Sebastian Berglund (Keyboards), Anna Forsvall Lundmark (Cello) and backing vocal by Evelina Andersson, Ellen Abrahamson and Mikael Cederhag. Is this the all-star cast mentioned previously? Well no, aside from Lindquist most names are new to me, but then we get onto the guest list.

Ready?

How about guitarists Mattias IA Eklundh (Freak Kitchen, Freak Guitar), Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Allen/Lande, Starbreaker), Jonas Hansson (Silver Mountain), Dennis Post (Star*Rats) and Magnus Kristensson (Mister Kite, Planet); along with keyboards by Jens Johansson (Stratovarius, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dio) and Lalle Larsson (Karmakanic, Agents of Mercy, Electrocution 250) and additional vocals by Alf Wemmenlind (Mister Kite, Fifty Grand Suicide), not too shabby eh!

But of course names are nothing without a decent end product and boy has Anton conjured up something rather special. As someone sick to death of overblown pompous epics (Timo Tolkki's Avalon anyone?) this is understated, it has very good songs, a strong story running through and the guest spots are used to enhance the end product, not be the only reason for buying. Production is excellent, strong, powerful and with a crisp mix.

10 tracks which take us from opener "The Hope" to closer "The Man", each track represents a step in Sir Galahad's quest, corny? Maybe, but Wemmenlind and Lindquist deliver the lyrics with so much passion and emotion it's hard to not get caught up in it. The other musicians are uniformly excellent whether its on the mid-tempo opener to the up-tempo and melodic delight that is "The Quest" to the musicality of "The Incident" (Dream Theater fans will love this one) and its breakdown with a superb keyboard solo from Sebastian Berglund. Each track has something to offer new on each subsequent listen and I can see this album staying in frequent rotation for a long time to come.

Overall, a very pleasant surprise from Lion Music and congratulations to Anton Johansson, the 30 year wait has been worth it. Check out ASAP


Laws of Motion
Laws of Motion
Price: 6.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Strong progressive metal debut, 12 Jun 2013
This review is from: Laws of Motion (MP3 Download)
Opposing Motion represent everything I've come to expect from the Lion Music label .e.g progressive metal that's well played and written. "Laws Of Motion" ticks all the boxes and isn't a million miles away in approach from label mates Seventh Wonder yet the band have enough of their own hallmarks to keep them sounding original.

Melody is high on the Opposing Motion list of traits with a strong leaning towards memorable melodic vocal motifs from Ludovic Desa, yet these tend to remain at the more aggressive end of the spectrum. The Deplanche brothers (David and Kevin) form a rock solid rhythm backdrop for guitarist Joe McGurk to lay down strong riffs and lead work over. This is definitely intelligent metal and you get the impression is all comes sickeningly easily for the band such is the confidence displayed in the material.

After several spins "Forever's Edge" is the pick of the bunch song wise, yet the closing epic title track runs a close second.

Areas of improvement? The production is quite wet with a lot of reverb, something which does take away a little power and see some intricacies get lost in the mix but otherwise its all strong stuff and another good find by Lion Music.


Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath
Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath
by Tony Iommi
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT THE GREATEST BOOK FROM A GREAT GUITARIST, 15 Mar 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Not a bad read but don't expect a mass of unknown revelations from Mr Iommi. Everything is covered fairly quickly, seems Tony never really gave us much thought to how line-up changes affect the Sabbath brand as the rest of us do! If you like Iommi this is an enjoyable enough read, Tony comes across as generally well grounded and down to earth with music always being his main driving force, but its also lacks a little spark.


Exceisior
Exceisior
Offered by MMT-UK
Price: 11.08

5.0 out of 5 stars FIRST CLASS INSTRUMENTAL PROG ROCK, 15 Mar 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Exceisior (Audio CD)
An absolutely killer overlooked album in the instrumental prog rock spectrum. Taking its cues from Mahavishnu Orchestra this is heavier that its influence with a more modern sound and approach, yet is full of stellar songwriting and first rate musicianship from guitarist/bassist Bill Berends and keyboardist Jens Johansson. Not a duff track on the release. "Excelsior" will instantly find a welcome home in your collection.


In My Dreams I Can Fly
In My Dreams I Can Fly
Offered by HANG LOOSE Records
Price: 11.01

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the worlds best overlooked guitarists, 3 Mar 2013
This review is from: In My Dreams I Can Fly (Audio CD)
Marking Mastermind guitarist Bill Berends' debut instrumental offering, "In My Dreams I Can Fly" is a 12 track homage to a time when instrumental rock guitar was not about how many notes one can throw down in a single bar or be as extreme as possible in all facets, instead it offers something more vintage, simplistic and dare I say it wholesome.

Here is an album that is essentially the sound of an experienced guitarist whose been on the scene for over 30 years making an album of the type of music he likes to play when not progging it up in Mastermind. In a way this harks back to 60's and 70's in so much that we get accessible musical themes, melodies - make that oodles of melodies - and a feel good vibe throughout. Nothing pretentious, nothing to make your brain hurt trying to figure it out (although some licks will still leave your jaw on the floor), just 12 tracks that will give you as much fun listening to them as you suspect Berends had recording them.

Armed with nothing more than a bevy of Gibson guitars, a cable and a Marshall JCM800; Berends goes to show what can be achieved tonally on such a simple set up, and I hear far more interesting sounds here than on any number of over processed hi gain shred albums I've hear of late. In addition to guitar Berends handles everything else except drums which are played by Jason Gianni (Neal Morse).

So onto the music. What we get is a melee of musical stylists all with the emphasis on rock from the driving title track and up-tempo bluesy roll of "Rock-A-Rama" and `Dream Rider', there's the majestic balladry of `Remember When' (great phrasing and tone here) and `In A Quiet Place', 60's blues rock pastiches in `Heavy Cream' (tipping its hat to one of Bill's main influences - Cream) and `If Man Were Meant To Fly' and on to the multifaceted `The Longest Winter'. Fans of sweet tone will find salvation in `To Days Gone By' where the guitar work borders on euphoric with its mix of blues timbres and celtic like melodies whilst even some bluesy country motifs are served up on closer `The Long Road Home'.

Overall this is a very enjoyable album that rewards on first listen and reveals new textures on each subsequent spin. It's not reinventing the wheel but its well written, well played and well produced and as such is a very enjoyable release and comes as recommended listening for any classic rock fan.


The Mystic Technocracy - Season 1: The Age of Ignorance
The Mystic Technocracy - Season 1: The Age of Ignorance
Price: 25.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SENSATIONAL DEBUT, 31 Jan 2013
Now here we have a bit of a treat for all lovers of progressive rock. Written and led by the keyboard dazzle of Douglas Docker, the cunningly named Docker's Guild sees a whole host of first class musicians involved in this, the first part of a series of albums. How do the following grab you? Vocalists John Payne (Asia), Goran Edman (ex Malmsteen, Karmakanic), Tony Mills (TNT) and Amanda Somerville (Avantasia, Epica), guitarists Guthrie Govan (Asia) and Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), bassist Tony Franklin (Blue Murder) and drummers Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth / Joe Satriani) and Magnus Jacobson (Miss Behavior). Not bad eh and fortunately the album sees good use of all amongst captivating compositions that have depth and soul.

The sound of The Mystic Technocracy results from the mixture of several music styles. Progressive rock is the main driving force with reference points in sound being Yes, ELP, Dream Theater and Genesis. Whilst the songwriting and vocal arrangements have an air of more traditional melodic rock and AOR acts, mostly Asia and Journey about them.

Couple this with more subtle and unusual influences from the likes of David Bowie (including a great cover of "Loving The Alien") and Jean-Michel Jarre and you will start to see how this is a big sounding record.

The Mystic Technocracy is perhaps, to be expected, a concept album (or first part of). It is the fictional outcome of a very simple observation: for 4000 years man has tortured, murdered, waged warfare and committed genocide in the name of the same God worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the three monotheistic religions. It is not a story against religion, but it is a story about the madness of man when he falls under the influence of fanatical dogmatic faith. This religious premise has then been plugged into a science-fiction universe, in which religion was created by a silicon-based life form, the Mystic Technocracy, in order to control, manipulate and eventually destroy humanity.

Song wise the album contains complex multi-section suites, more straightforward rock songs or ballads, as well as more unusual instrumental or groove-oriented tracks.

Highlights are pretty much all over, and whilst it make take a few spins to fully take stock of all on offer there are many moments of instant gratification such as the driving rock of the title track "The Mystic Technocracy" home to chugging riffs, parping keyboards and big vocals. The 8 minute epic "Darwin's Tears" showcases some of the more obscure influences mentioned but really works being a very compelling composition. "Judeo Christian Cosmogony" and the 11 minute 3 part-er "The Secret Of DNA" have everything plus the kitchen sink in them but are no worse off for it. Overall its compelling stuff with great performances from all involved.

Negatives? Not many, perhaps the guitars sound a little digitised being devoid of midrange but in a way this helps create a more "space age" quality to the music and is a small gripe.

Sonically the album is big, perhaps to be expected where keyboards (and variants of) make up a big part of the sonic landscape but its well mixed by Simon Hanhart (producer of Asia, Marillion and Arena) and mastered by Mike Lind (Dio, Talisman, Candlemass etc) so no complaints here either. The artwork inlay also promises to be a lush affair designed by the excellent Carl-Andre Beckston (aka monowasp).

Fans of any of the classic big prog names, or indeed newer variants ala Ayreon etc are urged to check this album out when released. A work of art is here with the emphasis firmly on songs and it promises to be a superb journey on future releases.

[...]


Merrell Men's Intercept Trainer
Merrell Men's Intercept Trainer
Price: 74.85 - 109.90

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slippery sole when wet!, 17 Dec 2012
My first pair of Merrell's, very well made and very comfortable yet I risk my life every time I wear these out if wet as they are lethal on damp surfaces.

Now I didn't expect city paving slabs on gentle inclines in wet conditions to be quite the icy challenge they've become - I've taken a few falls and looked a fool. Wet grass? forget it so that rules them out for strolls on the moor. Considering I thought these would be the ticket for my 2.5 mile daily round walk to work and back home in the city due to their supposed outdoor nature I am amazed how bad they are when wet, make that spellbound as to how bad they are. Then there is driving in these if wet, look out brakes as I might not stay on you, its crazy, no other shoe I have owned in my life has had this issue.

When dry there is not a problem in the world but maybe they should come with a copy of Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet for when inclement conditions arise. Buyer beware.


Forever More
Forever More
Price: 12.57

4.0 out of 5 stars Strong sophomore effort, 19 Jan 2012
This review is from: Forever More (Audio CD)
Awake's 2007 debut `Illumination' was a solid debut, if a little too Evergrey in places (but then it was produced by Tom Englund) so its with interest we see where the band is now at 4 years later with album #2 `Forever More'.

First thing we notice is a change in band personnel with a new guitar tag team of brothers Andy and Steven Coles and then some great cover art, and upon first listen the Evergrey edge of the debut has mostly been replaced with a more original sound and one that is still to our liking; but one that still retains the elements that made the debut enjoyable.

Heavier and more direct than many of their Lion Music label brethren such as Sun Caged, Seventh Wonder etc, Awake are all about big heavy riffs, with atmospheric keyboard parts and dark vocals. The band is also more intent on working a song as opposed to flawing us with their technical brilliance. Most tracks are concise clocking in around the 4 to 5 minute mark with short solo passages but are arguably more enjoyable for this trait.

After a brief instrumental opener "Into The Storm", the 1-2 punch of "Out Of Control" and "Release Me" are powerful dynamic numbers with some scorching guitar riffs and excellent kick drum work from Alex Townsend not to mention solid vocals from Simon Shedwell. The more mid tempo water of "Drifting Away" is dark and oppressive and rather tasty all round and this vein is continued for "Taken". The piano darkness of "Closing The Doors" is gothic in nature before "Bleed From You" displays a keen commercial edge and moves at a swift pace and is a highlight.

From here on in with get more of the same as before really, but the quality level is on a par with the rest of the album with later highlights coming in "Hold On", the multi-faceted "One Wish" and the closing title track which is home to a killer chorus and some more tasty riffery, a nice way to go out.

With "Forever More" Awake have cleared the difficult second album hurdle with no problems. More coherent and powerful than the debut in all departments this is a progressive tinted metal band the UK can be proud of and should see the band score a wider fan base. One to check out.

Review as featured at virtuosityone.com


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