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NEAL MORSE
Neal Morse
( ©EAR CANDY Records - A division of INSIDEOUT Music '99 )
Better known in recent years as the principal writer, vocalist and leader of California based prog meisters SPOCK'S BEARD, Neal has finally stepped out on his own to realise a life long ambition in releasing his first solo album. Displaying a vast array of talents, Neal not only wrote all the material and played the majority of instruments on the album but he also produced and arranged all of the tracks. As I am not competent to write about SPOCK'S BEARD because I haven't really had the opportunity to hear the band or its work, I will say one thing: Neal's self-titled debut is something worth listening to. It is modern rock crafted in the progressive manner. Obviously, Neal has no problem handling all the matters concerning the making of a solo album such as playing all the instruments, writing all the tracks and then producing all this to be released on the CD format. Wow! This man is genius.
Right from the start, the opener Living Out Loud, portrays a nice picture of the entire album. All the emotions, all the positive energy and skilful mastery of the instruments are pressed into one well-produced rock song that has nothing to be ashamed of. It could easily enter major pop-charts, hit mainstream radio or be turned real loud on big arena concert. And, what follows is pure musical enjoyment. In Lost Cause Neal really heats things up. The song has this really great melody backed by the keys-sounding-as-flute reminiscent of JETHRO TULL, followed by the acoustic interlude which in turn changes into dramatic heavy pop-rock. Positivity just pours out of this one. Extra recommended! Next is a balladesque Landslide that has convinced me unconditionally of the fact that perfect pop-ballads need not to be written under the hands of English lads, namely THE BEATLES or OASIS. Honest and intelligent! For the ones searching groove and the fulfilment of all prog-rock desires, check out That which doesn't Kill Me where the really spaced-out bridge easily transforms in yet another classic rock chorus. Now we come to the point where I openly confess I am sucker for pop-ballads, and have always been one. This is where I bow down to Neal. Expertly crafted and written with passion and inherit beauty, Everything is Wrong could easily be the best song on the album. ELTON JOHN, eat your heart out! Neal has the voice, handles the piano in great manner...extra cool! Then follow the easy-rocking Nowhere Fast, and an acoustic ballad Emma with this really great strings arrangement.
Right. Now it is time for some real power, class and progressive behaviour. A Whole Nother Trip is a 24-minute escapade sub-divided into four parts, four individual songs. The common link is classic heavy progressive rock with all the goodies we all adore. Abrupt tempo changes, odd time signatures, quotes from classical music, blues, heavy metal, energetic display of instrument mastery, mood changes. It is all choreographed in such a fashion one never knows what to expect next. Take your time and really sink your teeth into this one. It is a trip worth taking. Highly recommended!
 
VANDEN PLAS
Far Off Grace
( ©INSIDEOUT Music '99 )
After having been together in the same consistent line up now for almost a decade and after two successful studio albums, Colour Temple (1995) and The God Thing (1997), VANDEN PLAS have found themselves at the forefront of the German progressive metal scene. Acknowledged as having achieved their own identity and style and not merely following in the footsteps of others, VANDEN PLAS have returned to the fore with their new album Far Off Grace.
The first thing I have noticed is this really bombastic, in-your-face production putting in the front heavy, metallic guitars and strong rhythm section. Vocals, lead and back-ups, are just right there in the middle of all the commotion. The band builds on the classic foundations, heavy intro plus heavy melody, twice the refrain, chorus, solo on the guitar, repeat once and end the song with a few progressive lines. It is the case with the opener I can See. Nothing new, nothing shocking. The semi-acoustic Far Off Grace is already getting somewhere with slick guitars, playful keyboard work and easy progressive temper. Into the Sun really burns the ears but it never gets beyond the point of reckless abandon. It is still all to familiar, the format one has heard at least a thousand times before. And this is present throughout the whole album. The band reminds me of CONCEPTION but with less convincing vocals and weaker guitars. I don't Miss You is a typical heart-throb that needs a complete make-over. Guys, ballads require the proper care and definite expertise unless you want them to sound like yours. What you will hear in this song is just a few piano lines and absence of real emotions!
All in all, I must say that this album is definitely worth paying attention to. If not for anything else but for the excellent cover of DOKKEN's classic Kiss of Death. This cover song portrays VANDEN PLAS as a band capable of achieving far more than Far Off Grace. Well, there's still the next time, right?
 
DIGITAL RUIN
Dwelling in the Out
( ©INSIDEOUT Music 2000 )
A brand new signing to INSIDEOUT Music, the band hails from New Jersey, USA. Already having received rave reviews in the underground and metal press for their debut album Listen, DIGITAL RUIN has further honed its talent and has produced an outstanding display of progressive metal laced with dark atmosphere on their latest offering, Dwelling in the Out. The first two songs, Living for Yesterday and Darkest Day, represent DIGITAL RUIN in its entirety. The band is really into this interesting mixture of slow-paced heavy metal slightly leaning into serious progressive waters. The atmosphere and the feel to the album is really dark, pensive and introspective, all of this beautifully punctuated by smart keyboard work. The title song has a very interesting passage and great solo. Also, I couldn't help but notice the very unique vocal harmonies that are present throughout the album. Great work, guys! The Forgotten starts with nice keyboard line and is a shining example where many various short themes are interwoven nicely around each other; easy intro evolves into frantic heavy metal and this turns into progressive display of highest quality. Night Falls Forever also has a classic progressive intermezzo that is adorned in the sound of playful keyboards and vivid guitar solo.
All in all, a fine album worthy of your attention, if you are into serious heavy progressive metal that rather shows it all in a very thorough and clear-cut manner than lose its identity in mere dabbling on the instruments. Too bad I haven't heard the first album from this cool band so that I could hear how far have they have gone with the sound.
Recommended!
 
MASTERMIND
Angels of Apocalypse
( ©INSIDEOUT Music 2000 )
This album is a follow-up to last year's successful debut on the label, Excelsior! This particular debut album saw the band embracing their love of jazz fusion whilst maintaining their heavier direction they had become known for. Before that the band's leaders, brothers Berends (Bill on guitars and Rich on drums), released their actual debut album back in 1990 on ZNR Records entitled Volume One. The second album on the same label was released in 1992 entitled Brainstorm. In 1994 the third album, Tragic Symphony, was released in Japan and in 1996, the fourth album entitled Until Eternity was released and followed by a limited edition live album in 1997, Live in Tokyo. MASTERMIND are back with a more rounded and accomplished effort that again sees the addition of keyboard wizard Jens Johansson (of  STRATOVARIUS, MALMSTEEN, HEAVY MACHINERY fame) and also the introduction of female vocal sensation Lisa Bouchelle. The addition of vocals to the band's complex arrangements adds another dimension altogether that will be sure to please. The first thing I have noticed is that the promo CD is extra long, around 70 minutes of music! This is due to the addition of two special bonus tracks, one a 12 minute epic cover of classic ELP composition, The Endless Enigma. The other one is Only in My Dreams. But this is not so relevant. The fact is MASTERMIND is a tough nut to crack. I cannot find any comparisons that would help me in writing a thorough and objective review. There is a whole lot of music in this band. Ranging from hard rock fusion with jazz, classic heavy metal guitar chops, progressive madness in the vein of old masters like ELP or YES...All the songs are relatively long, each is approximately 6 minutes long and the opener, The End of the World is more than 10 minutes long!  MASTERMIND is on a musical journey that has been unexplored so far. You've got to hear this for yourself.
 
PATRICK RONDAT
On the Edge
( ©LIMB Music Products '99 )
A special occasion in heavy metal: European guitar hero who is the ultimate answer to all the six-stringers and chord shredders from USA! Patrick has the essential ingredient, a soul and passion for music. Of course, Patrick is a highly skilled musician with enormous technical knowledge and a touch for compositions so it's no wonder he has worked with Jean Michel Jarre and appeared as a guest star on the G3 France Tour with Joe Satriani. On the Edge is a very good album with superb heavy sound and clear-cut production. Patrick succeeded in creating a more natural and less sophisticated album thus not using a vast array of different effects and in-studio enhancements. Also, two very special guests appear on the album. The unique violin genius Didier Lockwood and the late world-renowned jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani ( his last official studio recording session ) both add an unheard colour to music and stretch the dimension. The song Why You Do Things like that? which features both guests is a remarkable piece of music and it really comes out as a great performance of professional artists who are dedicated to music. With this release Patrick's integrity remains intact proving that refreshing and original material can still create a greater stir than all the less talented releases. For all serious fans of heavy-rock guitar music and for progressive fans, too. Cause it's not just your regular heavy chops music. Highly recommended.
 
THRESHOLD
Clone
( ©GIANT ELECTRIC PEA/INSIDEOUT Music '98 )
THRESHOLD needs no introduction, no review. Pioneers and legends. This band has done so much in the past few years plus it has revitalised the stale metal scene with huge dosage of fresh energy. Clone is their latest album and is going back to the roots of heavy metal. If I remember well, THRESHOLD has never sounded so heavy. The new vocalist is no match for Mr. Wilson, however, he offers an impressive performance of a rare perception. Nine songs on Clone incorporate very heavy and metallic sound with classic antiques of the band: perfect guitar melodies over a pumping bass line, majestic keyboards invoke familiar moods, and vocal is rich in soul and power.
The album is a recommended buy! Do not miss out on one of the better progressive bands of the decade.
 
WITHOUT WARNING
Step Beyond
( ©INSIDEOUT Music '98 )
An experienced US progressive metal band with its sophomore release. Step Beyond is a classic example of how progressive music should sound. A collection of listenable tunes with all the usual trimmings: energetic rhythm section, synchronised keyboards and guitars, complex song structures, convincing vocals. WITHOUT WARNING easily maintains the delicate balance between more heavy outbursts of powerful metal and intricate melodic passages.
There are nine songs on Step Beyond and some are really remarkable. More is a great; the heavy beat is wrapped in a haunting yet powerful melody. Prophet is a furious heavy metal attack with superb bass line. Turning Pages is a nice example of odd rhythms, and the explosive passage at the end proves this band is a crazy bunch of professionals.
Highly recommended and a must for all serious progressive fans.
MAGNITUDE 9
Chaos to Control
( ©INSIDEOUT Music '98 )  
Perfect! MAGNITUDE 9, a project of guitarist Rob Johnson, bass maestro Kevin Chown of ARTENSION fame, vocal genius Corey Brown of PSYCO DRAMA and some other fanatics shows the true side of progressive metal. A perfectly balanced set of songs with gentle, melodic passages intertwined with explosive cocktail of powerful and heavy metal. All the musicians display their enormous knowledge, experience, talent and vigour in a way you haven't heard before. Everything is in its place. Vocals, hmm, the richness and beauty of this particular instrument is above regular. Guitars are sharp, punctual and always there, keyboards are mad - mad! - and the rhythm section must be high on something. How else can I describe MAGNITUDE 9? Mad, unique, heavy...The heaviest progressive metal in years. The future of progressive metal. You simply must hear the song number ten, Writings, where the maniacal Kevin Chown actually spices the chorus with this huge slap-bass. MAD and original. A must!!!
 
 
PLATYPUS
Ice cycles  ( ©INSIDEOUT Music 2000 )
After the debut album When Pus Comes to Shove from 1998, the all-star project seems to have become a band of its own. The debut was a collection of many varied songs ranging from frenzied instrumental progressive metal to DEEP PURPLE clones. Also, the overall feel to the album was that of an straight ahead rock and roll with a touch of blues, metal, and fusion. This chemistry worked in a couple of songs, on others it came out like a perfect copy of past influences or former bands of the involved musicians. Quite the opposite is Ice Cycles, the follow-up album which is much more homogeneous mixture and shows a rather subtle side of the band. Production-wise, the band has a well balanced sound where every note does full justice to each musician's virtuosity. Quantity has turned quality. PLATYPUS is now much more song-structure oriented, with greater emphasis put on lyrical concept. There are no unnecessary instrumental escapades which suggests that the band has matured in many a way.
When Pus Comes to Shove  ( ©INSIDEOUT Music '98 )
There is not much I can say about this obvious money-making project featuring four renowned musicians from the States: Ty Tabor of KING'S X on vocals and guitars, John Myung of DREAM THEATER on bass guitar, Derek Sherinian on keyboards and Rod Morgenstein. of DIXIE DREGS/WINGER on drums. Half instrumental, half vocals, it is all pretty much the same stuff you have already heard in the music of KING'S X, DREAM THEATER and DEEP PURPLE.
The latter is the strongest reference point on When Pus Comes to Shove. Of the ten songs on the album only Platt Opus is worth mentioning because of its sheer power and interesting passages. PLATYPUS offers little and nothing you haven't already heard. Otherwise, it is well produced, musical performance is on a very high level but the whole idea just doesn't seem to work.
 
ELDRITCH
El Nino
( ©INSIDEOUT Music '98 )
The Italian quintet with its third album leaves no place for speculations. El Nino is without a doubt a great achievement for ELDRITCH and a great piece of progressive metal music. The promo kit states the album as a wonderful gallop through the sound universe of the harder kind. It is true, so very true. The main focus is heavy and fast-paced progressive metal filled with excellent melodies. Production is very good and one can really hear all the instruments. The keyboards are in unison with the rhythm section which allows the guitars to wiggle around freely in a most beautiful manner.
Fall from Grace is definitely of a hit-single kind. No Direction Home opens with a real death metal riff and immediately the band blows you away with weird rhythmic signature and disturbing melody. Still the band won't let go and it just explodes in Heretic Beholder. Bleed Mask Bleed is a mainstream, fit-for-radio hard rocker - the fans will love this! El Nino as the last song on the album is backed by a playful bass line, orchestral keyboards and superb vocal harmonies. Great! Don't forget to buy this album. It is one thing you should not miss!
 
TIME MACHINE
Eternity Ends
( ©LUCRETIA Records/OMEGA Records/LIMB Music Publishing '98 )
Italian progressive rockers with a bit heavier sound. The music throughout the album is very pensive, slow-paced progressive metal.The vocals are quite Italian, without any real depth and soul. What amazes me is really cheap sound of the guitar. I guess production could be a lot better. Keyboards are ok, melodic structure of the songs works in some cases; Desert of Souls and Sphynx, the Witness. On the whole, Eternity Ends deals with music and ideas that need far more subtle approach than the band is capable of producing.
MOB RULES
Savage Land
( ©LIMB Music Products '99 )
Powerful and melodic heavy metal with a lot of double-bass drum-work. The guitar licks are a traditional showcase of the 80's legacy and reminiscent of HELLOWEEN. Production is on a relatively high level. Nowadays, the real change in German metal is most obvious when it comes to vocal parts. Still German-accented but to a far lesser degree than some already classic whiners of the 80's and 90's! Actually, Klaus Dirks offers some impressive vocal folds gymnastics which is something not every German vocalist can do; Pray for Sunlight, Hold Back the Light and Coast to Coast.
Savage Land is a recommended buy because it incorporates all the traditional metal
goodies plus some more.
 
CHINCHILLA
Horrorscope
( private pressing, distributed by POINT MUSIC/LIMB Music Publishing '99 )
A five-piece German power metal band holding tight to the already set standards. Horrorscope is a classic blend of heavy guitar riffs, fast-driven rhythm section and pompous arrangements. The pathos you just cannot avoid lies within How the Children Dance, She's so Evil while the focused concept of slow, mid-tempo metal beat is prevalent in most of the songs. However, the band easily warms up for such head-bangers as Reborn of God, Crack in the Mirror, Hill of Secret. CHINCHILLA has potential and it is no wonder why Japanese fans are going crazy. Horrorscope has no gimmicks and is heavy to the bone.
 
KENZINER
The Prophecies   ( ©LIMB Music Products  '99 )
After the 1998 release of their first album Timescape, the US/Finnish symphonic progressive metal-heads KENZINER continue their musical journey on the already charted route. Ten new songs, a well-balanced mixture of technical brilliance and catchy arrangements with legendary David Chastain again handling the production. Well, what's new then? Mikko Harkin, a 19-year old keyboard wizard spicing up the already hot and steaming rhythm section. Mikko's input is of great importance because it makes The Prophecies even more classic; in the sense of grand symphonic arrangements and virtuosi keyboard solos. And, there's the new drummer, Brian Harris, who formerly played with MY OWN VICTIM.
The lyrical themes the album covers range from unrequited love and dreams to war, senseless murder and greed. Rather serious matter, don't you agree? It seems like KENZINER is facing reality and trying to abandon the sterile cliché of knighthood and fantasy. Good for them. Serious music for serious people. Note:  Check out the 10 minute musical voyage, track number ten, The Prophecies.
Timescape   ( ©LIMB Music Products '98 )
A David Chastain production. Thus, you might expect a symphonic progressive metal with speed references. Stephen Fredrick ( ex- BILLY THE KID ) on vocals, Dennis Lesh ( ex- TROUBLE ) on drums, and Jarno Keskinen, a new guitar maestro from Finland. Timescape is actually the brainchild of Jarno who composed all the music, played all guitars, bass, and keyboards. Nothing you haven't already heard in the music of YNGWIE MALMSTEEN although it is much more fresh and has real balls! Fine production and great sound, though.
 
SUPERIOR
Younique
( ©TNT/MODERN Music/LIMB Music Publishing '98 )
The band is jumping the band-wagon and searching for that modern, unique sound. Yeah, right! Younique is anything but that. Ok, heavy based metal with percussive interludes, grunge chops, electronic arrangements, spacey funk(?) and jungle distortion. Everything and nothing at the same time. Not with Me opens the album. And the rest of the songs are done in exactly the same manner. Every song starts gently and soon goes off in a blast of sonic mixture of technic heavy grunge.
Younique should be a single entitled Not with Me because the rest of the album is a waste of time and space.
 
TY TABOR
Moonflower Lane
( ©INSIDEOUT Music '98 )
Member of KING'S X. Enough said. Moonflower Lane is a fine mixture of catchy and memorable psychedelic rock with just enough hard edge. Heavy in I Do, The Island Sea, and really psychedelic in Live in Your House. Ty is a great musician, a fine guitarist and composer; and a solo flight away from his home-band into a more relaxed and joyous music is quite refreshing.
A nice piece of work. For that optimal feel listen to Hollow Eyes.
 
SHARON
Edge of Time
( ©LIMB Music Products '99 )
This German quintet is more into melodic rock than in metal. Very retro, very eighties rock with balls! The music of SHARON incorporates nice backing vocals, fine guitar licks, all backed by a strong and confident rhythm section. It is great to hear a retro band that really has it all figured out and is not just reviving the old clichés. Tony Pinto, the vocalist, also does not suffer from that dreaded German accent. Whew, what a relief.
Edge of Time really isn't very original but it is done with passion and soul. Listen to Love Don't Bother Me and you won't have to miss the eighties anymore.
 
AVALON
Vision Eden
( ©OMEGA Records/LIMB Music Publishing '98 )
A heavy, so called progressive metal. Well, musically speaking this band could(?) pass as a progressive one but there are other matters which make it quite the opposite. Mainly, the vocalist Chitral Somapala sucks big time! Not so much the German accent but his performance is really weak. Also, the production is really bad. Drums are everywhere, guitars can be heard only when they really burn. It is like the band doesn't know what it is doing.
I recommend that AVALON take some musical lessons in progressive metal and leave this genre to other bands that make most of it.
 
RHAPSODY
Symphony of Enchanted Lands  ( ©LIMB Music Products '98 )
Emerald Sword  ( ©LIMB Music Products '98 )
A huge boom, a massive following, an unprecedented revival of the eighties. All this and much more! I guess RHAPSODY is for the younger generations what MALMSTEEN and HELLOWEEN were for our generation. Ultra-fast heavy metal, pompous arrangements, great walls of thick metal and majestic orchestral sounds, fantastic imagery, heroic adventures and lyrical symbolism.
I stay unimpressed but according to the European underground metal press, this revival is gaining enormous following of the fans. Fine with me. Been there, heard that. Everyone else who thinks otherwise MUST buy this album.
 
LUCA TURILLI
King of the Nordic Twilight  ( ©LIMB Music Products '99 )
The Ancient Forest of Elves  ( ©LIMB Music Products '99 )
The solo project of the RHAPSODY guitarist and composer. Again, the same as above but this time with a different vocalist, Olaf Hayer. The legend continues..
 
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