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Graeme (Scotland)

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Skies Darken
Skies Darken
Price: £19.78

5.0 out of 5 stars Progressive Treat, 3 Dec 2013
This review is from: Skies Darken (Audio CD)
Like one of the other reviewers, I bought this after hearing a track on a Prog mag sampler. I have to admit that on the first couple of listens to the song in isolation ('The Hunting of Jonny Eue') I thought the music was superb but the lyrics were a bit silly. However, listened to within the context of the whole album (concept in style and all tracks segue-ing beautifully), the lyrics are absolutely fine.

In style and sound there's a definite feel of early Genesis. It's all very 'Trick of the Tail', but with hints of 'Fountain of Salmacis' thrown in for good measure. But I wouldn't get too hung up on these sorts of comparisons. To me 'Skies Darken' is a nod in Genesis' direction without being a carbon copy.

Musically this is a fine album with extremely good playing throughout. There's a real mix of styles and tempos, with motifs being repeated throughout and further developed as the tale unfolds. Lyrically, it's extremely interesting with various references to mythologies, nursery rhymes and fairy tales. I'd like to say I understand it all, but I'd be lying!

If you like well played, inventive melodic progressive rock, you should add this to your collection.

Price: £10.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A grower, 23 Nov 2013
This review is from: Sand (Audio CD)
The reason I bought 'Sand' was because I really like North Atlantic Oscillation. I was fairly intrigued to hear what the solo work of NAO's singer would sound like. Perhaps not surprisingly, it's NAO-ish. The vocal sound is obviously going to be similar, but there's also the largely synth-heavy sound of the music. However, I think it has a slightly more commercial sound than NAO. enough for this solo album, to be able to stand as a distinct work and not be viewed as the third album the band didn't make.

Sand is a musical treat which improves with every listen. Undoubtedly this piece of work will not reach a wide audience which is a real musical crime. Hats off to the Kscope label for continuing to support these artists who are actually able to put together music that is experimental without being off the wall, and for allowing their artists the freedom to go where they want to within their craft.

Almost impossible to pigeon-hole (and why would you want to), but if you like neo-progressive synth-laden melodic music, then I don't think you'd be disappointed with Sand (or indeed NAO).

Dethroned & Uncrowned
Dethroned & Uncrowned
Price: £14.54

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Katatonia unplugged, 14 Sep 2013
This review is from: Dethroned & Uncrowned (Audio CD)
So, this is basically Katatonia unplugged with a reworked mainly acoustic rendition of Dead End Kings. Dead End Kings is a great album, though I wonder if die-hard Katatonia fans feel a little worried about the direction the band appears to be taking. I reviewed 'The Wisdom of Crowds' album that Renkse did with Pineapple Thief main man Soord. I really like that album, so no surprise that I like this side of Katatonia. I sometimes find that the Katatonia sound - dark and intense - gets to sound a bit repetitive. Their songs are all live at the same tempo and similar structure - abrupt endings featuring quite a lot on Dead End Kings. And that doesn't really change on Dethroned & Uncrowned. The songs have all been reworked, and beautifully so. But for me there's still a sameness about them. I think Katatonia could push themselves a lot further. They're extremely comfortable in what they do (and hey, that's not a bad thing), but I just feel they could do more.

Not sure that tis album will find them any new fans, but I don't think that's its intent. It's a very good album, and a very interesting direction. I think what will be more interesting is the direction that Katatonia decide to take on their next offering.

All in all, 4/5 for me.

The Mountain
The Mountain

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliance!, 5 Sep 2013
This review is from: The Mountain (Audio CD)
Haken's previous two albums have caused quite a stir but in a fairly small pond. Maybe now that they're in the Inside Out stable things will begin to take off in the way the band deserves.

The Mountain is just over an hour of absolute musical brilliance. There's a mix of quiet and loud, long and short, sometimes with a touch of humour, all delivered by an immensely capable band.

We start off with a hymn before exploding into action. That action takes us through jazz, metal, pop, ballad with varying vocal delivery techniques and an array of instruments. There are numerous references to early prog., but more than anything there is a clear statement of where a band as talented as Haken can take modern prog.

I think this album will continue to get better with repeated listenings. There's so much detail in the content that it's going to take multiple listens to get everything that's in there.

Price: £13.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uninspiring, 3 Sep 2013
This review is from: IV (Audio CD)
Blackfield IV is a very skimpy 31 minutes or so of niceness - nothing particularly offensive, but certainly nothing to get at all worked up about. Blackfield appear to have settled for a forumla they're happy with - very short melodic pop that you can have on in the background while doing something else. The inclusion of Messrs Cavanagh, Anderson and Donahue at least offers a change in vocal sound, if nothing else.

There isn't a bad song on IV; thing is, there's not a really good one, either. It's just nice. Hence my three stars - it's okay. Welcome to My DNA is better, and Blackfield I and II are streets ahead. If you're new to the band and want to check them out, do yourself a favour and check the earlier stuff, first.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2014 11:24 AM BST

Wisdom Of Crowds (Deluxe)
Wisdom Of Crowds (Deluxe)
Price: £15.94

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great collaboration, 18 Jun 2013
So, I'm a big fan of The Pineapple Thief and Katatonia. To be honest, I prefer TPT, but that's just me. So, when I heard that there was going to be a collaboration between Messrs Soord and Renkse, I was interested.

`Frozen North' was included on the latest Prog Magazine sampler and as soon as I heard it I bought the CD. The collaboration could have been Renkse singing Pineapple Thief songs or Soord writing Katatonia songs. It's neither. Instead, you have (in my opinion, Katatonia fans!) the more melodic song-writing sensibilities of Soord combined with Renkse's quite splendid voice. The difference being that the vocals here are toned down a bit from what's required for Katatonia, affording Renkse a, dare I suggest it, sense of freedom.

There isn't a weak track on the CD, though it does feel a tiny bit samey in terms of pace and construction. As a first outing from an experimental pairing, however, it's just great. I can see it as an interesting side project that both gentlemen might be happy to continue with as and when their own band commitments allow.

The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) [CD+DVD]
The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) [CD+DVD]

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SW continues to... ...progress, 13 Mar 2013
There's a fair bit of chat in these reviews about this album being derivative of early 70s prog. Is it? Probably. Maybe. Does it matter? Obviously it does to some. I just like the album, to be honest. I don't care if the opening bass line sounds like Yes. I don't care if there are touches of Floyd. I just like it. And I liked it even more after I saw it performed live in Glasgow. I also think the album benefits from knowing a little of the background of the stories behind the songs. A quick summary of each was provided in an interview SW did with Prog Magazine. It makes the closing track, for example, even more poignant.

Musically, this is a fine piece of work with musicianship being very much to the fore. The quality of the recording is superb. It's a good length at just under the hour mark. Plenty of noise for your money without making the mistake of giving you 70-odd minutes and to hell with the quality. Despite a low song count, there's plenty of variety. It's only March, but this is already a contender of album of the year for me.

The Final Testament
The Final Testament
by James Frey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 20 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Final Testament (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book, but can understand the mixed reviews it's received on here. One of the main criticisms is that it's repetitive. It is a little. But I think that's because each instalment is provided as a `gospel' from a number of individuals whom the main character, Ben Zion, has touched in some way. So, it's repetitive in the same way that the New Testament Gospels are repetitive.

TLT is thought-provoking to an extent. For me, though, the `controversy' isn't so much about the take on organised religion, but more so on Ben Zion's view of what love for mankind means. According to these `gospels' Ben's view is that love is not merely unconditional, but it's also promiscuous in the extreme. It's an interesting message to preach against a background of AIDS and other STDs. So, I found myself deeply intrigued by this charismatic character, but not entirely agreeing with his message. And then I would remind myself that at no point is it ever Ben's account of his life or message; it's always someone else's. Whose message are they actually broadcasting? How reliable are those accounts? Do you just accept these testaments in blind faith, or do you subject them to more thorough consideration of their validity. That, to me, is where this book succeeds.

Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Price: £10.76

17 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 7 Nov 2012
It's been a long wait from the release of Yanqui UXO. Was it worth it? In a word: No. The band does say that the album presents four new drones. They weren't kidding. `Drone' is as good a descriptor for this album as any. The street recordings are so minimal that they might as well not be there. But, unlike Yanqui, the street recordings haven't been replaced by powerful emotive music. Instead you get, well, drones - a noise that goes on and on, sometimes getting louder, sometimes with a bit of percussion, sometimes the hint of a violin. Very occasionally there is a threat of something happening, but the threat is never realised.

I've never been so excited and so disappointed by a release. If you haven't heard GY!BE before, don't start here. Go and listen to `Lift Yr Skinny Fists' or, basically, any of their other stuff, would be my suggestion. Feel free to find this review unhelpful.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 15, 2012 2:43 PM GMT

A Dance With Dragons: Part 2 After the Feast (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5)
A Dance With Dragons: Part 2 After the Feast (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5)
by George R. R. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.86

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Patience required, 24 Aug 2012
There are lots of conflicting views and reviews on where we've for to with GoT. HBO's serialisation of the early instalments has undoubtedly brought these books to a whole new audience, and that can only be a good thing (mainly for GRRM but for fantasy as a whole). The first three books are action-packed affairs with shocks aplenty. The pace slows in Feast. Some readers didn't seem to like that, though I felt it was a welcome pause to draw breath which allowed for characters to be further developed. So, what about Dance (and this is a review of Dance as a whole, not of the rip-off marketing ploy (for the second time in this fantasy series) of splitting the book in two)?

Well, I liked Feast, so I gave it four stars. With this, I find myself almost edging downwards. I'm still interested, because I like these characters and I've invested a lot of time (and some money!) in following them. But I felt with this one that when the shock came (it was a shock for me and I'll say no more about that) I felt, Oh, here we go again. And I still feel a bit like that. A couple of the narrative threads left me wondering what the point of a few hundred preceding pages was. For the first time, I'm starting to feel that GRRM's grip is loosening. There are so many threads now that it's so difficult to keep track of where they all are.

Has the story been moved on significantly by this latest hefty volume? Honestly? In my opinion, no. It's like we're watching a really long game of chess (or cyvasse, if you prefer), and while we've been watching, the pieces have moved only a little. But what's happened has all been a bit peripheral. We are no clearer at all about what the major threat is. There are characters scattered all over the place. And there are so many that I really fear for the shape of future instalments.

It took me around 8 volumes of Wheel of Time before I gave up on that. For the moment, though, I'm happy to stay on the GoT train in the hope that, like Jon Snow, I know nothing.

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