Music Reviews

Artist: Freakangel (@)
Title: The Faults of Humanity
Format: CD
Label: Alfa Matrix (@)
Distributor: Alfa Matrix
Rated: *****
Not too long ago I was given the nod to review two albums that came from the same source, although not the same record label. The two bands, Freakangel and Suicidal Romance are both from Tallinn, Estonia, and share a key member ' Dimitry i., who on this album does vocals and seems to be the leader. What he does with Suicidal Romance we'll save for the next review. Although there are some dark-electro similarities between the two projects, Freakangel has the more aggressive style and Dimitry is definitely the vocal captain in this band. He is assisted by Art (ex-Kamaloka) on guitars, and frOzen (frontman of cB, aka Cyclone B) on keyboards. Also, these guys really seem to look the part; starkly goth-industrial at a time when most similar American bands just seem to be going with a nondescript look.

In the realm of dark-electro-industrial EBM music, it's hard to come up with anything that hasn't been done before. The style has been well-defined by the likes of Suicide Commando, Hocico, Funker Vogt, Leaether Strip, Wumpscut and so many others. Obvious comparisons to these bands are nearly pointless. So how does a band possibly stand out from the pack? Well, it ain't easy, but I have to give Freakangel credit for trying.

The opening prelude, 'Frailty,' on 'The Faults of Humanity' is a moderately slow industrial instrumental dirge with a bit a dramatic strings and crunchy percussion. That's followed by an old-school EBM style stomper called 'Gods Blind Game'. The synth riff sound is fairly standard and Dmitry's vocals are pretty much along the lines of Hocico, but perhaps a tad nastier. I have to say that it is catchy, and good dancefloor fodder. Rock solid guitar work by Art too. I like the triple-beat on the chorus; it adds a bit of character. There is also a cool bit of dark industrial ambience at the end. 'My Darling Bullet' is another straight ahead stomper but it has a couple of interesting things going for it- a sparsely interjected dialogue sample ('Do you want to die?') and smoothly gliding wordless female vocals, I'm guessing from Viktoria Seimar of Suicidal Romance. What a contrast, something really different in this kind of music.

'Crawling in the Dark' slows the pace down a bit and is plenty gloomy. Dimitry's vocals are no less malevolent though. Very gothy. 'The Last White Dance' picks up the pace again and frOzen's old-school analogue synth work is commendable. Nothing you haven't heard before, but well-done. 'Curse.Forgive.Kill.Cure' seems like it goes on for a little too long without anything of significance happening. 'Together Against It,' which follows is a little more sonically interesting, and also has a better chorus. 'It's Not a Lovesong' almost seemed like another piece of filler until the wordless female vocals saved it from being a fast train to nowhere. By the time I got to 'Price For All of Us' I realized there was little in the way of beat variation throughout most of the material. I don't think it's necessary to make them ALL dancefloor suitable. Some extended atmospherics and unusual beat-play would have been nice, but it is what it is. Since there really isn't any variation in Dimitry's vocals, some variation in the music would have been good. 'Under Code' carries on in a similar manner with nothing particularly outstanding. A little disappointing. 'Finale' is a brief atmospheric piece with wordless female voice, synth and piano, and no percussion. I would have rather have heard that expanded to five or six minutes and have skipped one or two of the lesser interesting tracks on the album. The band is to be commended though for not overusing dialogue samples, a flaw that a lot of dark electro-industrial bands succumb to.

Oh, 'The Faults of Humanity,' they are manifold, aren't they? For a debut album, this is still pretty good; not perfect, not great, but pretty good. Worth checking out. By the way, this album also comes in a 2 CD version (I only reviewed the 1 CD version) if you can't get enough Freakangel.

Artist: Dandelion Wine (@)
Title: All Becompassed By Stars
Format: CD
Label: Ars Musica Diffundere/Black Rain (@)
Rated: *****
It seems the Australian band Dandelion Wine in the intent to modernize their sound (and in order to do it, they've chosen to get out of Australian exterminate boundaries and wisely move to Berlin where they organized a recording studio in a small apartment in Kreuzberg, surrounded by snow and ice during the last severe German winter) managed to translate ancient emotions into a simple but up-to-date musical language. Attaining to the most voluptuous side of electronic music as well as to the beatitude of ethnic (mainly sprayed with Middle Eastern and Arabic heady scents'¦) elements reminding me of Sufi tradition, Dandelion Wine sinters eastern and western themes and music , ethereal sounds and cranked electric guitar lines, unconventional acoustic instruments (whose impressively furnished stores include nice freaky rarities such as medieval lutes, dulcimer, sansula ' an instrument similar to the African marimbula - or the bell cittern ' a medieval 12-string sort of mandolin -) and contemporary machines (mainly recognizable analogue synths and big beating drum machines!) but above all gravitational pressures opposing soul raisings.

The swaying melodies and the subtle ethnic percussions of the title-track All Becompassed By Stars is going to set the stage by wrapping the listener in the emotive field you could perceive when staying in the middle of a desert surrounded by star-light spotted sky, whereas the electronic tentacles and the bizarre intertwining between a tribal percussion set and a march-like movement introducing Gravity ' a superbly mixed track! - seem to broke that dreamy flight by giving voice to somewhat mysterious gravitational pulls inspiring the moaning-like way of singing by Naomi Handerson and the roaring guitars by Nicholas Albanis! A snake-charming guitar riff reminding to me some guitar sample I heard in Juno Reactor's Shango introduces the intriguing mixture of eastern suggestions and electronic pop song's catch in Shards and it's nice the moment it turns into a sort of framework for the prog slides emerging up to the dust just before the song reaches its peak through an enjoyable pressing rhythm. The snake-charmer put temporarily away the guitar in order to play a flute to start the flaming electronic belly dance of Nowhere ' one of the catchiest track in my opinion! -, while Sidereal and Early Warning Sign ' an entrancing mournful ballad, perfectly interpreted by Naomi (which lacks of a certain dramatic grip in other passages of the record'¦) on a Spanish guitar melodic web, exploding in an energetic but plain goth-rock song structure, which stands as the better crafted track of the whole album ' could be considered as the highest emotional peaks (nearby those stars becompassing everything!) of this album even if both of them are quite plain and lack of woolly sound treatments. Dandelion Wine's rustic, but kind-hearted medieval vein strongly pulses in the sweet tapping of Orbit, a track introducing the last part of the part featuring a less intrusive presence of electronic buzzing devices, followed by the bittersweet lulling ballad of XVII containing the hypnotic sound of what seems a glockenspiel.

In Seven Times As Bright the twinkling voice of the stars weaves a crystalline and glassy melodic garland over the spectral vocal moaning by Naomi and the mystical breathe pervading the closing track, Seven Times As Bright, being the most abstract of this interesting release. It's quite difficult to give an exact definition of Dandelion Wine's style and even these Australian sorcerers usually make fun of a similar attempt by describing it as medieval trip-hop, but it's quite easy to recommend some listening to it even if they lack of the intellectual fervour distinguishing similar bands such as Dead Can Dance or Ataraxia and Naomi has not the same mystical eagerness of singers such as Natacha Atlas!
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Artist: Cult Of Youth
Title: Filthy Plumage In An Open Sea!
Format: 12"
Label: Avant! (@)
Rated: *****
After a couple of 7"s, an LP and two CDr singles, Sean Ragon is back with a new Cult Of Youth release titled FILTHY PLUMAGE IN AN OPEN SEA! I have to admit that I didn't know them and with this release Avant! is confirming as one of the most interesting and innovative Italian alternative music labels. With neo-folk is easy to track down the influences of that music style, because most of the bands refer somewhat to Death In June, but with Cult Of Youth things get tough, because, simplifying things, it's like Sean started to be influenced by Douglas Pearce starting from Crisis. The first five tracks of this MLP sound like acoustic songs of revolt, just like Crisis had acoustic guitars. Since with the opening "Lace up your boots", Sean is playing his guitar as he was possessed, crying out loud his rage, fear and all the animal feelings a man can feel. Minimal arrangements made of strings, keyboards and synth percussions, enrich the songs giving to the songs a great atmosphere. "Bottomed out", the sixth and closing tune, is a bit different as it's a mid tempo r'n'r ballad (there's also a guitar solo), really passionate. On the note I read that this is the last record Sean recorded as a solo artist, because starting from the next one, the people who play with him live will play also in studio. Watch out for The Cult Of Youth, they are out for blood!
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Artist: Der Arbeiter
Title: Holzwege
Format: CD
Label: Ur Muzik (@)
Rated: *****
Six years after its debut album "Reflejos del Sol" released by Divine Comedy, Der Arbeiter is back with a new album inspired and dedicated to the Cilean writer Miguel Serrano. HOZWEGE contains ten songs in balance from neo-folk with Mediterranean influences (check the melodies used for the acoustic guitar parts) and electronic arrangements. This musical blend along with the melancholic atmospheres create a cinematic effect where light industrial ambient martialism influences meet electronic folk and acoustic passionate instrumentals. Along with nine original songs, you'll find "Wo Die Wilden Kerle Wohnen ", originally wrote by Gerhard Hallstatt (of Allerseelen) for the same title 7" compilation ("Where The Brutes Dwell" is an ancient Germanic fairy tale and on that 7" different bands recorded their musical version of it). Love and despair find a new meaning following the Serrano's concept of "Minne" ("a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent") and Der Arbeiter made of its music the carrier of these emotions.
Artist: Roman Stolyar (@)
Title: Missa Apocryph
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Electroshock Records (@)
Distributor: DWM Music Company
Rated: *****
Once again Electoshock Records presents another genre-bending album that defies conventional categorization in the form of Roman Stolyar's 'Missa Apocryph'. To break the album down to its basic components- take a base of progressive rock, add modern classical chorale and season it liberally with liturgical Gregorian chant. Yet like many culinary recipes, the dish cannot be solely judged by the sum of its ingredients.

Although most listeners in the U.S. probably haven't heard of the Russian (Siberian) composer Roman Stolyar, I'm sure he is much more known in Europe (and probably elsewhere) especially in Russia. Stolyar's background is in modern (free) jazz piano and classical composition. He studied under Yuri Yukechev and has collaborated with such notables as Anatoly Vapirov, Carl Bergstrom-Nielsen, Hans Schüttler, Lot Lorien (Bulgarian world-fusion band), among other projects such as jazz groups Alter Ego, and New Generation and Shanti, an eclectic music duo with Roman and his sister Yelena Silantieva on vocals. For all of his jazz and classical background, Roman looks and sounds like he could have been in one of any progressive rock bands of the 1970's, although he would have been too young to be there at the time having been born in 1967. Then again, almost any progressive rock musician will have some jazz and classical background, some weighing more in one direction than the other. But the music on 'Missa Apocryph' is more about the vocals than it is about the instrumental aspect, as the chorale work dominates in nearly every way.

'Missa Apocryph' is heavily reliant on the Sharomov Vocal Ensemble consisting of Yelena Zabvarfskaya and Olga Ossipova (sopranos); Ludmila Tyukhaeva (mezzo-soprano); Alexander Zverev (tenor) and Pavel Sharomov (bass) to realize the concept of bringing Gregorian liturgical music into the 21st century. Now this is NOT Gregorian chant, although the lyrics (as well as song titles) are derived from it. There six tracks ' 'Kyrie,' 'Gloria,' 'Credo,' 'Sanctus,' 'Benedictus,' and 'Agnus Dei' that span a little under forty minutes. The music begins with a little atmospheric (and amazingly played) solo alto recorder by Roman before the drums (yes, there are drums, programmed drums, but still drums) keyboard accents and allegro vocals kick in. The phrase 'Kyrie eleison' is done in elaborate near-baroque rondos, but with expression that includes modern jazz as well as traditional classical. For reference, anyone familiar with some of the more elaborate vocal choral work by the prog-rock band Gentle Giant might have a clue as to what's going on here, but the GG boys are rank amateurs in the chorale department compared with the Sharomov Vocal Ensemble. There is a tremendous amount of counterpoint and even operatic phrasing as the Sharamov folks belt it out. This is often enhanced with dramatic keyboard accents among the ostinatos. 'Gloria' is a bit more moderate and grand, but still embellished with contrapuntal vocal accents. To some extent, Roman's orchestration takes a back seat to the vocals but still moves it along enhancing the ambience. At times it could be as simple as a bass underpinning, and at others quite polyphonic, yet never overriding the vocals.

I am wondering if it was a conscious decision on Roman's part to use obviously synthetic sounds for his instrumentation rather than pipe organ, piano and real strings. Even the drums don't sound quite real, although the programming is quite elaborate. Maybe that's the modern aspect he was striving for, but it tends to make it 'prog-rocky' something purists might have a hard time with. Prog-rock aficionados should love it though. There are no instrumental solos or extended passages, only occasional brief interludes. 'Credo' is perhaps the closest piece to modern classical vocal music with its very stylized phrasing, the longest piece on the album with little to no instrumental backing until the halfway point. This sounds like an incredibly difficult piece of music to perform. It's really quite amazing, and I have not much to compare it to, except maybe Brian Ferneyhough, although his stuff is a lot more difficult to listen to. Ferneyhough's 'Missa Brevis' comes close but is a good deal more avant-garde and disjunctive. Stolyar's music has smoothness to its form that makes it much more palatable.

'Sanctus' and 'Benedictus' have a lot of rhythmic impetus to them heightening the drama, and they could stand together as a prog-rock mini-opus. If Wakeman or Emerson were doing music like this, people might be buying their albums again! There is a lot more harmonic unison in the vocals on these pieces than the others, quite effective too. There is also some real piano on this track. 'Agnus Dei' has a cinematic ambience through much of it being dreamlike and very moody. I could easily see it being adapted to a soundtrack.

To sum up, Stolyar's 'Missa Apocryph' is much more than the sum of its components- a rich pastiche of the ancient and modern, a work of depth and beauty. I would have preferred a real drummer and some elements like pipe organ and more piano, and maybe the instruments taking a bigger part in the music (perhaps an expanded edition?) but for what it is, it's great. Something I'd love to see performed live. I doubt I'll ever have the chance though.
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