Thursday, September 8, 2016

Obskuria, Germany-Peru-USA

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Their facebook page hasn't been updated since 2012, so it appears this side project is on ice for now. I've only heard Discovery of Obskuria to date.

Obskuria - Discovery of Obskuria. 2007 World in Sound (Germany CD; 2 LP)
Obskuria - Burning Sea of Green. 2011 World in Sound (Germany CD; LP)

----Discovery of Obskuria

Obskuria, a moniker that is most certainly appropriate, was born out of some impromptu jam sessions that took place in Mannheim circa 2006. The core group is made up of Peru's La Ira de Dios along with the keyboardist from native Karmic Society, and the guitarist from Cleveland, Ohio's Dragonwyck. So not only do we have an international space rock troupe, but one that crosses multiple generations. Most of the music is a fine example of instrumental Krautrock, with Hammond organ starring in a major role, and some fine acidic guitar leads with tribal drumming. It is this element that I would think will be of most interest to potential future buyers. The rest, including the two openers and closers, are cover tunes that give the project a novelty feeling, which is rarely a good thing. Though I have to admit the maudlin cover of Metallica's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' was intriguing, and interesting to hear the tune swathed in organ. Overall, a very good album for fans of that early 70s German Krautrock sound, without too many surprises.

I currently own the LP, which is a 2 disc set, that comes in a fine high quality gatefold as one would expect from World in Sound. The LP does leave off the final track however, though it's one of the cover tunes as mentioned above, so I'm not sure how essential it is in any case.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Deus Ex Machina, Italy


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Deus Ex Machina are one of the most important Italian progressive rock bands to have emerged in the last 25 years. Vocalist Alberto Piras brings back the memory of Demetrios Stratos (and singing in Latin prior to the Cinque album), while the band mixed hard rock with progressive seamlessly, just as their early 70s forefathers had. By the time of Cinque the band had switched more towards Avant Prog, but still managed to rock out on occasion. With Devoto, the band have returned to their roots. I own every album by the group excepting the live CD Diacronie Metonomiche, starting right from the beginning with the first Drums Edizioni release of their debut. What's presented here are the only ones I've penned notes for, and will update as I revisit each title in the future. Interesting to note that for such an important band, almost all of their product is out of print excepting the last two albums. One would have to imagine a repress campaign at some point*. At the current time,I don't believe the band maintains an internet presence.

* Update: We just now have received word that all of the Kaliphonia era CDs will be repressed. So good news for fans who missed out the first time.

Deus Ex Machina - Gladium Caeli. 1991 Drums Edizioni Musicali (CD); 1994 Kaliphonia (CD)
Deus Ex Machina - s/t. 1993 Kaliphonia (CD)
Deus Ex Machina - De Republica. 1994 Kaliphonia (CD)
Deus Ex Machina - Diacronie Metronomiche. 1996 Kaliphonia (CD)
Deus Ex Machina - Non Est Ars Quae Ad Effectum Casus Venit. 1997 Kaliphonia (LP)
Deus Ex Machina - Equilibrismo da Insofferenza. 1998 Kaliphonia (CD)
Deus Ex Machina - Cinque. 2002 Cuneiform (USA CD)
Deus Ex Machina - Imparis. 2008 Cuneiform (USA CD+DVD)
Deus Ex Machina - Devoto. 2016 Cuneiform (USA CD)

----Deus Ex Machina (1993)

I feel sometimes that this, their second offering, is the forgotten work in Deus Ex Machina's canon. But much of their live repertoire is taken from this work, proving that in some ways, the album features their strongest material from a compositional standpoint. The execution isn't as crisp, and the sound quality isn't dynamic (a bit of a flat digital sound - typical of early 1990s albums). Singer Piras demonstrates here what a force he was to become. A very good album that has aged well and I feel an improvement on their chaotic and unfocused debut.

----Devoto

Deus Ex Machina go back to their hard rocking roots on Devoto. It's a surprising return to form, especially for a band who had dabbled in more academic avant prog waters for such a long time. Hard rock guitar, crunchy organ, shredding violin, a driving rhythm section, and the Demetrios Stratos-like soaring Italian vocals of Alberto Piras, define this fine album. It's not dumbo hard rock either, but very much the complex sound of the early 70s. Truth be told, classic Italian prog was always more heavy than ever given credit for. Even bands like Area and Arti+Mestieri kicked out the jams once in awhile. If you listen to the early Deus Ex Machina albums, this is the sound you'll find, except now with more vintage gear in tow. Devoto is about as grimy, nasty, and dirty-under-the-fingernails as you'll ever hear on the refined Cuneiform label. My kind of album.

Last update: September 13, 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

Drama, France

I've only heard the album displayed here, and bought when it first came out. Once I understood that the others included English vocals, my interest waned. 1990s Marillion/Pendragon copycats were dime a dozen in those days, and the reviews were unfavorable. Certainly I wouldn't object to hearing them, but at this point, I have no desire to pursue in haste. Best I can tell, the band has long dispersed.

Drama - s/t. 1995 Musea (CD)
Drama - Flying Over the 21st Century. 1998 Musea (CD)
Drama - Stigmata of Change. 2005 Cyclops (UK CD)

----Drama

Drama are a French band from the heart of Normandy (between Rouen and Le Havre). Their debut is an all instrumental neo prog outing, that turns out to be quite engaging despite the premise. Imagine the 80s NWOBPR bands such as Lahost, Tamarisk, and even IQ - as all-instrumental concerns. With a little bit of that medieval Minimum Vital sound to boot. That should give you an insight as to what to expect here. Tight, punchy, energetic, and highly melodic songs in the 6 to 7 minute range is what you'll find on Drama. And despite the lengthy track times, nary a dull moment can be found. Mind you, if you're the progressive rock nut who insists on densely charted scores, or need 70s fat analog instrumentation for your musical diet, then I highly suggest you move on past this title. Otherwise if the bands mentioned above light your fire, and modern synthesizers with non-metal 90s guitar tones are welcoming to your ears, then give it a spin. Personally I have a soft spot for music such as this, and my Musea CD is a keeper.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 2016 roundup

For those of you who are exceptionally perceptive, you may have noticed I rewrote the "What is It?" introduction to your right. In there I mention something about "monthly roundups". And here is our first one. I don't intend on writing lengthy dissertations here, though this first one will have much more explanation. In addition, as you see at the very end of this first roundup (personal update section), I'm not sure how active I will be going forward (all will be explained, nothing to be concerned about). BTW, if you have no interest in why I'm doing a roundup and what's in here, just skip down to the first "orange" line for updates.

But back to the monthly roundup concept. When I started this blog, it had been my intention to feature bands I like, with one post per band, somewhat to how the CDRWL evolved. As I began though, I ran into some dilemmas. For 1), I like to hear albums in my collection randomly (literally, using a random number generator). But what if I randomly choose an album with a large discography? Or by the same token, a band with a large discography just released a new album (or I just acquired an older album by that band). I felt compelled at that point to do a complete dossier of that band by reviewing each album chronologically. Problem? It takes forever. And I don't always want to hear the same band night after night, or even week after week. So the post stays in draft forever, almost to the point where at least in the "new album" scenario, it's too late. And with bands like Radio Massacre International for example, I couldn't possibly digest all that music in a short time.

Even with bands with smaller discographies, my solution to the problem had been to use an "Updated Post" teaser that linked back to the band. Two problems there: 1) It's messy; 2) Many folks won't click the link. They just won't. It's the modern way. The trouble with Blogs, and even worse with Facebook, is that the entities themselves have no sense of history. You can search for historical artifacts, but it's not intuitive to do such. Blogger is much better for this, and I can even turn this into a website. And I heavily use the "data keys" section on the right just for that purpose.

The solution? Twofold. 1) Any new albums by groups already featured here will have their entire post moved forward with new notes. This keeps the groups fresh and upfront. 2) As mentioned above, sometimes I'll randomly choose an older album by a group, or I will buy an older album I didn't have. If it's the first post for that band, I will create the band page just as before. But if it already exists, I will just update the older post..... And I will let you know I did that in the Monthly Roundups. Hey, we finally got to the point! LOL.

----Monthly Updates

Only one this month: Nebelnest. Added new notes for the debut album (a drop dead killer BTW, and essential. Bought it upon release and it's better now than ever). And I actually had some older notes to share for Zepto.

----Under the Radar bands with new albums on the way

Now this section will not only include bands that we've already built a page for, but also on some that need  their own page!

Accordo dei Contrari. 4th album

Consorzio Acqua Potabile. New album with Alvaro Fella (Jumbo!) on vocals. This could be very special.

Corima - Amaterasu. New album on Soleil Zeuhl. For me, one of the most anticipated!

Electric Orange - Misophonia. I think this may have just been released. I do have one review of an Electric Orange album already on UTR, from when I had moved away from "band pages". But I have notes on a few of their releases, and was already working on a post. Just awaiting this release now to finish it.

Eye - Vision And The Ageless Light. Laser's Edge. Actually had already moved it forward to highlight the band, but will do so again shortly once this album is released and I purchased it.

Gosta Berlings Saga. 4th album. On Cuneiform I believe.

Ingranaggi della Valle. - Warm Spaced Blue. Black Widow (Sept 28). Like Corima, I'm most curious about this one!

Kaipa Da Capo - Dårskapens Monotoni. This one came out of nowhere. Kaipa Da Capo is the continuation of Kaipa after the Solo release and will not feature Hans Lundin. With the lyrics all in Swedish, this promises to be a good one.

Universal Totem Orchestra - Mathematical Mother. Big fan of their other two works. This will certainly force a band page!

According to my "projects" tab, I have another 22 band pages ready to create and 3 updates. The hard work is already done (the reviews/notes), so I have plenty in the can to keep this fluid. And I have way more than that ready for Unencumbered Music Reviews, so be sure to check over there as well. One post that was almost set to be published before I shut down last October was for the superb Russian band Vespero. Now I just need to hear their latest album, which has been sitting here for far too long.

----The A-List

So this is a concept I've been toying with for a very long time, going as far back to my personal website some 13 years ago. It's a bit nebulous, and I have to say it has be considered "very personal" to my tastes. I say that because I do not want to be exclusionary. And there are bands that I have featured here, that are not on the A-List, but do qualify for the 5 year rule. It is not an insult to not be in my A-List. It's a matter of musical preference only. If it seems I'm being overly apologetic, it's because we are in a very small niche as it is, and we should support each other as much as possible. And that's one reason I created this blog. I will not write negative reviews for this blog. I would rather just say nothing at all. If a band is written up in this blog anywhere, it means I do like their music! But not necessarily A-List level. So what is the A-List exactly? It's a set of rules, and it goes something like this:

1. Must have released a new album in the last 5 years (calendar, so to be qualified today, the band must have released an album since Jan 1, 2011)
2. Must score at least 4 stars on RYM or a Gnosis 11. This means "Excellent".
3. Exception to 2) is if I hear an enormous amount of potential, and give it a 3.5 / 10, then they get A-List status.
4. 1,2, & 3 compels me to buy the album upon release. I'm by no means super diligent on this point. I determine my "buy time" based on how obscure the release is. If it's on Rise Above, it can wait a while. If it's an obscure release on a private label, I may move faster. But rest assured labels and artists, I do BUY CDs (and LPs if necessary), and usually within a few months of release. It's just a matter of scope and scale.

So each year, I will obviously be removing A-List bands due to the 5 year rule. It's also possible to fall off if the musical direction changed dramatically. This section will also be used to highlight "new" A-List bands.

I have updated this blog in its entirety, and today there are 110 bands that qualify. And there are many more than that, that I just never put a page up for.

----Personal Situation

Been active here lately Tom, what's up? Yea... that. So let me catch you up on what the heck happened, and why this may not be a continual thing - and why I have been so active. I always see these blog/music activities as something I'll do in retirement. But I see myself at least 15 years from that. Anyway, explanation: For the last 9 years, I have worked for a "Fortune 10" company. Obviously it's enormous in size. The business unit I worked for was sold to another Fortune 10 company on Dec 31, 2015 (but the rumors started in January of 2015, so this has been going on for nearly 2 years). These are not your common "takeover" situations where everything goes over lock, stock, and barrel. I've been through those a couple of times, and they're much cleaner. This is more akin to ripping a huge piece of equipment out of the wall, and there's still tons of loose wires to deal with. The group I lead was one set of these "loose wires", and we were not part of the sale. At that point we went under "contract" to the other company while still employees of our company. It's all very "Dilbert-esque" to be honest. Anyway, that contract is set to finish by the end of September. As you can imagine, my role has been substantially diminished in the last few months. To the point that I had more free time on my hands than I've had in over 20 years. But I kept expecting it to end, or to have other duties, so that's why I decided to keep "shut down" for awhile and not restart. That never happened, and so here we are. It's been awesome to be honest (and I do truly love the company I work for). Which is why I've had time to create Purple Peak Records and get one sale off and another built; To build out various lists on RYM; To organize my collection (even further than prior) and began adding what I own piece by piece onto Discogs (I'm about 50% done). I even had time for chat boards, which has been rare of late.

All great, right? It won't last of course. No direction has been provided to me or my team, but eventually they will have to do something, and I suspect very shortly that will happen. The options are 1) "Redeployment" or 2) Severance. 2) seems likely. It's not the end of the world, but as mentioned, I do like this company. But what I do is far - far - from their core competencies. 2) will be generous, which is the good part. The bad part of course is that I have to hit the bricks for a new gig. And that won't be easy either. No matter the scenario, my life will have to change dramatically. If it's 1) I will have to learn an entire new business at a "high level" and if it's 2) it will be similar work to what I've been doing for over 16 years, but I will have to reestablish myself, and it's likely I'll be traveling again as I once did extensively. And 2) will also require 100% focus on getting something at all. All of this takes away considerably from my free time. And of course I'm married, and have a house, and all that goes with that... so if suddenly I disappear, well, you'll know why.

Alright - next update will be 1/10th this size, I promise! :-)

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Piedi Nudi, Italy

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A Piedi Nudi were one of the bright lights from the 90s Italian progressive rock renaissance, combining classic early 70s styled compositions with a decidedly more modern tonality. Creazione is definitely my favorite of the 3, but I don't have any notes to share at the moment. Same with Eclissi. As I revisit those CDs, I'll update this post at that time. The band sadly broke up in 1999. Time for a reformation I think!

A Piedi Nudi - s/t. 1994 Mellow (CD)
A Piedi Nudi - Creazione. 1995 Mellow (CD; LP)
A Piedi Nudi - Eclissi. 1998 Mellow (CD); 2006 MALS (Russia CD)

----A Piedi Nudi

A Piedi Nudi's debut album sounds very much what it strove so hard to be: An updated version of Il Balletto di Bronzo, especially from their fabled Ys album (it even opens with 'Introduzione' and closes with 'Epilogo' - not a coincidence). Not as brilliant or groundbreaking (of course... duh), but a valiant effort all the same. We'll start with the vocals of Mirko Schiesaro. Without any doubt he studied Ys intently, as he sings very much in the same way as Gianni Leone did (especially as he truncates the verses and lifts his voice near the end of each stanza). Perhaps not as histrionic - or as effective honestly - but oh yes, the style is basically the same. Now onto the guitar of Nicola Gardinale, who also happens to be the only songwriter here, so it's clearly his show. Gardinale's tone is decidedly 90s metal, with plenty of riffing. It's quite jarring against the expected heavy psychedelic tone of the almighty Balletto, but very exciting all the same, and fits well within the style of music. He also composes sudden breaks similar to Ys. On the downside would have to be the keyboards of Cristian Chinaglia. He's a competent player for certain, but the sounds are exactly what one would expect from the era's plastic digital gear, very typical of the 80s and 90s. Even when the "organ tone" is on, this is no match for the real-deal mellotron and organ of the masters. Lost in all of this is the fantastic rhythm section of the Bighetti brothers, who are perhaps the closest of all to the original Balletto recording, and are up to the task in keeping with the constantly shifting meters. The music, over the course of the album, begins to blur together in a samey sound manner, though a close listen will reveal many differences within. A Piedi Nudi's debut is one of many classics of the 1990s Italian progressive rock scene - and as with the 70's bands - will likely be discovered some 20 to 30 years after the fact. The band would improve from here and include more references from the 70s Italian scene (especially Semiramis), but this debut is outstanding, and I've never tired of it some 20+ years later.
 

I've seen reviews that only reference UK groups, including 80s neo prog bands (and hair/grunge metal? OMG), and the album was disparaged because of it. That just completely misses the point, and the historical references that A Piedi Nudi were clearly aiming for - and were inspired by. Certainly the original 70s Italian progressive rock scene was heavily influenced by the UK masters to begin with, and so that point is never lost. But the sub-genre cannot simply be written off as copyist, considering the tremendous local culture imprint, all of which has been well documented as such for over 25 years now.