EANTCD 1032 – Esoteric Antenna (Cherry Red Records) – Time: 46:54
Tracks: 1) Time, 2) Memory, 3) Kombat Kid, 4) Headcase, 5) Eminent Victorians, 6) Broken, 7) Shadowland, 8) Entropy
Other music genres aside, I posit that many fans of Progressive Rock (Progressive Metal and other sub-genres included) have fairly high expectations when anticipating the release of an album by a favorite artist or band. The hope is perhaps for certain sounds and instrumentation—in a way, holding onto the past, the memories. I’m certainly guilty of that (I want Mellotrons, Les Pauls, E-bows and bass pedals), but I also hope for variants and invention in addition to complicated rhythms and key signatures that I associate with Prog Rock.
Music can trigger memories; hear a song and it can take one back to a long distant place and time, instantly. My memory of Nick’s work goes back to the early days of the Steve Hackett Band, in the late 1970s through the 1980s, and I certainly remember standing up front at more than a few venues close to the stage, marveling at Nick using his two (four?!) hands, feet and even elbows at times to assist with bringing Steve Hackett’s early work to life (he was a large part of the sound and technology of that era…and the transition from the analog to digital era in instrumentation and recording technology). Then, of course, I have enjoyed his solo work beginning with Straight On Til Morning from 1993.
I’ve heard some recent Prog Rock albums (even albums that I like) where the artist felt it necessary to include frequent derivative historical references and instrumentation or phrasing to other artist’s albums, but Magnus resists this temptation and takes n’monix in unexpected directions and makes it his own. The album does include many new friends as well as old; a connection to the past while looking to the future: Steve Hackett, Tony Patterson, Tim Bowness, Pete Hicks, Rob Townsend, James Reeves, Kate Faber and Andy Neve. Once again, long time collaborator, Dick Foster delivers sharp, witty and poignant lyrics that combine so well with the music.
n’monix is social commentary, history, reality and an observation of the results of technological advancements and the effects they have on us all. The more information available, the more to process, the more to remember and as a result we need devices to cope, mnemonics of many types. And curiously, even with the most tragic and unjust, we humans have such short memories; history is bound to repeat itself, it sadly becomes inevitable. We are victims of our own creations. The album is also about loss on many levels.
Time is the allegro of the symphony or the overture to the opera and it’s aggressive with firm vocals by Tony Patterson (and it will give your audio equipment a workout). By contrast (but very much in keeping with the symphonic reference) Memory is an adagio (slower tempo) waltz of sorts, which shifts from a somewhat shrouded soprano solo to broad choral treatment. Kombat Kid is an allegory. It is part march, part recitative and a story of consumption, manipulation and obsession…a reminder to step away from the keyboard or game controller now and then. Headcase is the only track on the album that even vaguely includes an homage…in this case (it seems to me!) to Gentle Giant…with quirky rhythms and lyrics—and memory games in the lyrics. Eminent Victorians is the most fantastical of the pieces on the album (with a brilliant animated video to accompany and vocals by the carnival “barker” Pete Hicks), and traces the absurdity of the served and servants, the sacrifices of the young and poor for the glory of an Empire and upper class; a familiar theme even today as income gaps grow ever wider and those less fortunate suffer even more. EV also includes prominent and most welcomed solos by Steve Hackett.
Broken is a heartbreaking lament with remarkable and emotional soprano saxophone solos by Rob Townsend (I have to admit that I had quite an unexpected emotional reaction to the track). Reality hits in the mournful resignation and loss of Shadowland and includes choral treatments and a stark guitar solo again from Steve Hackett. Some of the original themes return in the opening of the final track Entropy, an acceptance of reality and the unknown possibilities. I am certain that I have missed some of the literary, mystical and historical references…for now.
Although the subject matter of this album can be rather daunting, I find it to be somewhat lighter in spirit at times and more musical compared to Nick’s brilliant previous album Children of Another God. n’monix is impeccably arranged and orchestrated, and dances on the edge of being symphonic and operatic while including original and accessible songwriting. This is certainly not an album that collapses under the weight of a Prog Rock cliché, in fact, just the opposite–it brings a fresh relevance and viewpoint to the genre.
RareNoise Records CD RNR031 Time: 49:41 (vinyl soon and hi-res digital)
Tracks: 1) Macabre Dance, 2) Fetal Claustrophobia, 3) Blow, 4) Not Dead, 5) Clairvoyance, 6) First, 7) Dream Made Of Wind, 8) Wait Until Dark, 9) Latent Prints, 10) Dream Made Of Water
Band: Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (Voice, Electronics, Organ, Guitar) and Lorenzo Feliciati (Electric and Upright Bass) with: Gianluca Petrella: Trombone & Effects (tracks 1,2,4,5,7,10), Fabrizio Puglisi: Piano & ARP Odyssey (6,8,9), Jamie Saft: Keyboards (1,2,9), Eivind Aarset: Guitars (3,4,7,9,10), Sandro Satta: Alto Sax (3,9), Cristiano Calcagnile: Drums & Effects (4,5), Pat Mastelotto: Drums & Effects (6,8,9), Simone Cavina: Drums (1,2)
Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari aka LEF and Lorenzo Feliciati form the core of Berserk!, along with some other familiar names in the RareNoiseRecords stable, including Feliciati’s fellow Naked Truth bandmate Pat Mastelotto.
We all need a venting catharsis now and then—some folks resort to primal scream therapy, but generally I’ll pick music to assist with exorcising my darkened bilious tendencies. The new self-titled album from Berserk! seems like an effective cure for those intractable days when the pile gets too deep and the unrelenting Myth of Sisyphus comes to mind. Despite the band and album moniker, there is a broad mix of dynamics in the album and it’s marked by many (nearly neck-snapping) contrasts in sound and rhythm.
Berserk! isn’t a broad spectrum motoric assault on the senses, but it deftly selects its points of release, building like a suspense thriller with the rage boiling over every so often. The album also teases and mocks (from the gently maniacal whistling in the opener Macabre Dance to the background telephone ringing in Fetal Claustrophobia…yes, I turned my head to see if my phone was ringing!). There’s also a brief moment of saxy playfulness (albeit dark) in the reflective interlude Blow before entering the backstreets and dark alleys of Not Dead (shades of the growling Tom Waits and Sparklehorse duet Dog Door from the 2001 album It’s A Wonderful Life) with raspy voices and clusters of percussion pushing against an unyielding darkness.
Feliciati’s bass work throughout the album is reminiscent of Percy Jones’s work with Brand X, particularly the earlier freer-form improvised and less commercial version of “The X”. The aggressive horns, meandering piano, fast-changing rhythms and moods (as in Fetal Claustrophobia) also remind me a great deal of one of my favorite King Crimson albums, Lizard (under-appreciated until Steven Wilson remastered it with Robert Fripp). The treatment of Gianluca Petrella’s horns throughout much of the album often sounds like the thundering Mellotron horns used in Lizard. The sharp inventive contrasts in instrumentation also remind me of Frank Zappa and early albums by Godley and Creme (as in the albums L and Freeze Frame). Yet, there’s little humor in Berserk!—the focus is strictly business.
The middle portion of the album is furtive and contemplative in spirit (like the tracks Clairvoyance and First) and eventually LEF’s vocals (sung here, not spoken) break through, channeling John Wetton. Note: Don’t forget to listen for R2D2. There’s a brief pause (the calm before the storm?) with ethereal atmospherics and horn work in Dream Made Of Wind before the closing section of the album begins with a tender solo piano largo and transition to a massed rhythmic vocal and ultimately a full band assault in Wait Until Dark leading into an alto sax ensemble of Latent Prints (the feeling of KC’s Lizard returns) and moves into a roaring full-clustered rip. The album closes with the ominously thunderous and raging vocal domination of Dream Made Of Water—there’s the Berserk!
Had a tough day in the trenches? Hold the rage at-bay (warn the neighbors, shut the doors and turn up the amp) and have a listen. I think you’ll feel better.
This is a solicited review.