Symphony X – Paradise Lost

Symphony X

You know you are onto a winner (or you are deeply in the shite) when you find an album with Latin title tracks…

I also used to think (back in the days of gate-fold sleeves and Boots ‘the record shop’..) that an album with great cover art sounds better, feels better, behaves better and is all round better-better than an album without great cover art.

This album has got both!

This album proves that prog-rock is alive and well and is living in exile in ‘Neww Joysie’ (say it in a Soprano’s voice and you’ll get it) and that ‘thrash metal’ and even ‘death metal’ have grown up and are now wearing brown cords and hanging around the house smoking a pipe and wearing tartan slippers.

The American neo-classical prog-power metal band Symphony X was founded in 1994 so, just because you haven’t heard of them yet, it don’t mean that they haven’t been round the block (and back, after getting a pack of ciggies and a bottle of Tequila.)

In fact, they have already produced two critically acclaimed albums: The Divine Wings of Tragedy in 1997 and V: The New Mythology Suite in 2000. Some like to compare them to Dream Theater and, it is true, once or twice on Paradise Lost you get a nostalgic feeling you had been here before (regression, perhaps, as if you are playing out scenes from a memory?)

Their music contains strong neo-classical elements and it would be hard not to compare the opening track on Paradise Lost to anything by Carl Orff.

So the album starts off with Carl Orff and the title track is in Latin: Oculus Ex Inferni.
Pretentious or what? Well, I haven’t even started yet! The whole piece is based upon Milton’s epic poem of the same name. This famous poem concerns the Judeo-Christian story of the Fall of Man the subsequent temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and resultant expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton’s work was done in blank verse and put into 12 books (a bit like the Aeneid- you know the epic poem by one of the Tempest brothers- I think it was Virgil.) So it is well ‘arty-farty’- we are talking Arts Foundation Course A101, 102, 103 and 104!

Symphony X’s version of Paradise Lost only goes to 10 tracks (not 12 so they missed a trick) and ‘goes on’ for about 61 minutes ( Milton’s effort takes about a week to read) and the Orff-like opener moves nicely and cleverly into Set The World On Fire- a grungy but orchestral sweeping statement. No light, but rather darkness visible. This, then, is followed by Domination and then, for my money the best track on the album, Serpent’s Kiss.

In these tracks there is power, there is technical brilliance and there is superb musicianship. I like the feeling that good and evil are battling it out on this disc. It actually reminds me of the ‘black’ side of Queen II (for those of you that remember that far back.) For example, you get a harpsichord solo or piano flourish right in the middle of a heavy dark guitar piece. Then you get Russell Allen’s vocals soaring above. The dark-guitar comes courtesy of guitar guru Michael Romeo a Yngwie Malmsteen protege and it shows here.

The album finishes off with Revelation (a bit like the bible.) This is the longest and, probably, the ‘rockiest’ track on the album, going on for a good 6 or more minutes and followed by those softer keyboard solos (reminiscent of ELP) before returning with a vengeance to the grungy horror of death metal guitars. Growling out across the black sky.

All in all, don’t expect this to be an easy listen. Don’t expect to be able to play it to your old grandma whilst she knits you some ear defenders. And don’t expect to really get to know this album in just a day. It will reward you if you take time to really, really listen.

Yes, Paradise Lost is dark and it is haunting. Yes, it is intelligent and it is heavy. Yes, this album has got a first class honours degree in The Dark Arts. Yes, but, do you know what? It is actually very accessible and not far remov’d from God and light of Heav’n.

One of the great albums of the year so far.

Notes:

On the cover is a Mlitonesque Rebel Angel. The fantastic US version of Paradise Lost features a superb foldout and digipack that was designed by Warren Flanagan, who has done art-direction for major motion picture blockbusters such as I Robot, X-Men and Blade. I ordered my copy from the states just to get it!

Founder Symphony X guitarist and composer Michael Romeo llves and works in a Dungeon! It figures.

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Get the Symphony X album here

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Mika- Life in Cartoon Motion

Mika- Life in cartoon Motion

Fun, clappy, happy-clappy, claptrap- that’s Mika!

If you haven’t heard Grace Kelly or Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) yet then you have been living and loving on the planet Zog with your head down the lav and your ears full of cotton wadding.

Yes the songs are chirpy. Chirpy and cheerful. But not so trite that they make you wince. The girls may be all oooing and getting themselves in a right tizz over this fay curly-haired big-bird but the so-so-macho guys out there might well be asking for the sick-bucket to be passed around.

Mica Penniman (born 18 August 1983), aka Mika is a Lebanese-born, London-based singer. The family moved to London when he was just nine years old. The album Life in Cartoon Motion is his first offering and, already, a cargo-truck-load of singles have come off the disc.

After attending Westminster School and the Royal College of Music, Mika went on to record his first album. Naturally, for a man of such class, he is a trained opera singer and trained pianist. So he is a proper clever clogs.

Take two-parts Farrokh Bulsara, one-part Ana Matronic and five-parts the school-cleaners mop and you end up with Mika. The English have always had a soft spot for this sort of eloquent, flamboyant and outrageously camp iconic song-and-dance man (think John Inman, Danny La Rue and even Dame Edna). Mika perfectly fits the bill. He is the very encampment! He should be ‘on’ at the seaside (at the end of the pier) and, if he was on at the pier, he would be wearing a pink T shirt with the slogan “Ooooooooh, you are awful…but I like you”.

On the first listen of Life in Cartoon Motion, the quaintly falsetto whines lure you in the same way a seasick siren lures worn-out seamen in. The sounds seem sweet, honey-cake, but then you realize the lyrics are a little bit naughty… and a little big silly… and a little bit gay-fun.

But then, at times, you get ‘taken in’ by the proper BIG opera (trained voice) a la Queen circa 1974 and your feet get tapping to some proper street-cred sounds that may make you re-think the whole Mika phenomena.

The plinky-plonky piano is pleasantly supported by some quality session musicians such as Martin Waugh (guitars, backing vocals), Michael Choi (bass, backing vocals), Cherisse Ofosu-Osei (formerly of The Faders, drums), Vinnie Potestivo , backing vocals), and Luke Juby (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals).

There are 12 big songs on the album. You will recognise at least three. I write that with some certainty because, even if you have lived on the aforementioned planet Zog for the last few years, Mika writes songs that are kinda nostagic and reminiscent of lots of other songs and melodies that you know. I am not saying his work imitates or steals from others, I am saying it is comfortably redolent – like your favourite leather armchair or a favourite scented candle.

My choice track on the album is Lollipop which is, very probably, quite naughty (in the ‘end of the pier’ and ‘kiss me quick’ tradition) but also has a innocent charm and a guilty fascination.

Note: Mika’s sister Yasmine, who works as an artist under the nom de plume Dawack, painted the superb cartoon art for the album cover.

http://www.myspace.com/mikamyspace

http://www.mikasounds.com/

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Get the CD here

New Assassins

New Assassins

MIK PERRY – Vocals & Guitar RIK PAYNE – Lead Guitar NOAH HARMON – Bass Guitar. DAN MCDONNELL – Drums.

The New Assassins are an American sounding rock band from Staines ( they like to call themselves ‘the elder statesmen’ of Staines- but they don’t seem to look as old as Ming Cambell to me!) and they play everything from experimental, punk, new wave to raw blues, rock to indie. I saw them play at The Hob, Staines last month.

Some of their material seems a bit experimental and improvised- yet tight enough not to stray into ‘jazz odyssey’ territory. If you take a pinch of PiL (Public Image Ltd) and then add a spoonful of psychedelia a lá The Verve with a dollop of post-punk juice like Joy Division and you get close to the sound of the New Assassins.

In fact, the band look awfully similar to The Verve in appearance but seem less inclined to shoegaze and more inclined towards a more raucous and, to my mind, enjoyable rocky style more like The Black Crowes.

You can download NA tracks from their indiestore site at:

http://indiestore.com/thenewassassins

Keep visiting AdPontes-Staines the Staines Arts Magazine for news of upcoming shows by The New Assassins

——————————————————-
From Rich…

The New Assassins are the best band to come out of Staines in years! They’re doing a gig at The Compasses in Egham in March 09, Can’t wait!

———

Thanks Rich!

PFJ

The PFJ

The PFJ

The PFJ are an exciting pub band from Berkshire who play late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s retro rock from Aha to ZZ Top – stuff like “I Will Survive” to “Ace Of Spades”, with a bit of “Teen Spirit” and “Tiger Feet” thrown in.

I saw them at the Rising Sun, Slough and, even though they had to squeeze into a tiny corner, the boys managed to play a ‘full-on’ rock concert with sounds, lights, and electrifying energy.

The PFJ take their name from the Peoples Front of Judea (not to be confused with the Judean peoples popular front etc. etc. from Life of Brian) And, as the name suggests, the band oozes fun and humour as well as not a little musical talent.

Their choices (for the set list) is a head-bangers wet dream including some very old favourites like Ace Of Spades (Motorhead) and Paranoid (Sabbath) but mixed with some highly original (and hilarious) covers like I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor) or Crazy Horses (Osmonds). When you add songs like Turning Japanese (The Vapours)
and Video Killed the Radio Star ( Buggles) into the mix you realise that you are witnessing a highly innovative fun-time band.

The PFJ squeeze out every possible sound from their 6 piece outfit, featuring vocals, 2 guitars, bass, drums and even a stage dancer. Just to add to the party spirit, the PFJ come out in their patented Judean costumes and even tend to do some costume-changes during their set.

I went to see them again last Sunday at The Old Ticket Hall, Windsor but, unfortunately, the band were on after the rugby semi-final and I couldn’t be bothered to wait around until about 10:30pm to see them…

Since forming in 2000, the PFJ have won over crowds of drunks on a regular basis… make sure you catch their amazing live show soon

UPCOMING SHOWS

Saturday 8 December 2007 The Old Ticket Hall, Windsor –

http://www.thepfj.com/

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Velvet Razor

Velvet razor

Velvet Razor are a Rock / Classic Rock / Progressive outfit from Weybridge consisting of Dave Kent vocals lead guitar and additional guitar/keyboards;
Martin Wise bass guitar and backing vocals; Ian Pickering on keyboards and
Ian King on acoustic drums, electronic drums and percussion.

Having formed four years ago (2003), Velvet Razor haven’t wasted time in trying to establish themselves as a fixture in the UK South’s live music scene. 2005 saw the band play at Guilfest 2005 and proving to be a minor sensation of the festival. They were unknown late-comers to the festival, playing the notoriously difficult first slot on the Surrey Advertiser stage. Initially they played to a nearly empty marquee, but half way through their set, the crowd started to pour in from outside.

More recently they played at the Ents24 stage at Guilfest 2006 (The 2nd largest stage) and went back into the studio this sunmer to record a whole new disc.

I saw the band at The Hob, Staines last month. The band played a selection of their own-penned compositions plus a nice range of prog-jazz sounding covers from Stones through to Led Zeppelin via some more modern stuff. Their own material sounds a bit experimental (without being too avant-garde) allowing the boys to stretch the boundaries of the basic rock sounds. The band’s guitar-based tunes containing interesting percussive elements is reminiscent of Robert Fripp (King Crimson). It is obvious that the band enjoys exploring elements of jazz and funk whilst remaining loyal to a more solid rock foundation.

I heard plenty of old-style prog-rock (Pink Floyd, Yes etc.) but couldn’t really say that I heard ‘more modern’ prog-rock sounds like Porcupine Tree or Spocks Beard and I suppose this is not a surprise because the band are no spring-chickens…. not that I am being critical about their combined ages! As an example of their reliance on older sounds, I noticed on their website that they cite Genesis as an influence but are clear to note that it is the ‘Gabriel’ Genesis they are referring to and not the ‘Collins’ version (so in other words pre-1975.)

Perhaps the Hob is not the best venue for VR. The ‘jazzy & experimental’ feel of the group meant that, at times, their performance seemed lazy and a little self-gratifying. It is fair to say that the group seemed to lack the vigour and vim of some of the younger performers that night.

But, all-in-all, VR is a complex and multi-talented band worth exploring (you can get their disc from their website) and probably more suited to an outdoor event than a pub-rock venue.

Neil_Mach  October 2007

UPCOMING SHOWS:

Sat, Nov 17th 2007 8:30 pm Robin Hood Pub Guildford

Check their site at:

http://www.velvetrazor.com/

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Blue Fuses

Blue Fuses

I saw Blue Fuses on Thursday 18 OCT 2007 at the rather strange Riverside Club, Staines ( I will go into that in a moment) and had a fine time.

The band has a secret penchant for anything by British Rockers ‘with a colour in their name’. Think pink, black and purple. But I didn’t hear any “blue” from the Fuses (as in Moody Blues) so I take it that the ‘Moodies’ are not ‘bluesey’ enough… if you get my point.

A typical Blue Fuses set will take in some Led Zeppelin (we had a Whole Lotta something) Black Sabbath and lots of Floyd. Also be prepared for a few surprises- I particularly liked Superstition (Stevie Wonder).

The band also likes to play the basic blues but with a nice prog edge to it. (Think Camel circa 1975.) There is also some jazz-influenced rock in there ( I suppose that most Pink Floyd is jazz-based so it makes sense, but I am thinking more of Bruce Cockburn/ T-Bone Burnett.) There is even some folk-influenced prog-rock like Jethro Tull, but all of it has its foundations in good old British progressive blues.

Will (Just Will) Carrol delivers power in abundance on the drums and Pete Brock tends to wander around a lot with his radio guitar…. a la Nigel Tufnel. Pete adds vocals and some lead breaks to the sound but mostly provides the rhythm guitar sounds.

Doug (Lip) plays some impressive guitar -improvising rather than relying on worked out solos- and the lads put on a skilled and compelling live performance. The ‘front man’ is multi-talented Noel Jones ( the Baldly Drawn Boy) and it is he who provides most of the vocals (good voice) and plays some very impressive bass lines (with a six string bass). Noel was once a member of White Lightning, an influential melodic rock band of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal genre and has recorded and gigged with all the big names of the NWBHM. I noticed that Noel was wearing what I think was a ‘Cradle of Filth’ T-shirt …. isn’t that is pretty damn impressive for a 50 year old bald blues musician, No?

Now we get to the venue. The Blue Fuses played at the Staines Riverside Club, Laleham Road, Staines. Now, please don’t get me wrong, we need more music venues in Staines and I applaud the efforts of the Riverside Club in opening up their club to bands of this stature. (They also boast The Rhythm Pigs on Friday 30th November and Big Jim Sullivan and Duncan Mckenzie on Thur 22 November). But the ‘welcome’ to non-members was non-existent and the ambience of the place was- as my music teacher used to say- “Good effort but much more work required if (he) is to be successful”.

To give you an artists impression of what The Riverside Club was like while the Blue Fuses was playing you will need to imagine an old folks home on a wet Sunday afternoon with the blinds drawn but all the fluorescent tubes turned onto full blast. The band were obviously asked to ‘turn it down’ so they were playing at ‘bedroom volume’ instead of ‘club’ volume. There was a high-power darts match going on in the adjoining bar and this had been given ‘priority’ by the management, so the darts players got served first at the bar and their cheers were louder than any screaming lead-solo. Add in a raffle, a couple of speeches and some polite clapping (between songs) and I think you have it.

Still, not to mind, Blue Fuses went down well with everyone. They seemed to enjoy playing the show and I will definitely go out of my way to see them again.

UPCOMING SHOWS:

Dec 8 2007 9:00A
The Cardinal Wolsey Hampton

Jan 26 2008 9:00P
The Cardinal Wolsey Hampton

Mar 14 2008 9:00P
The Cardinal Wolsey Hampton

May 9 2008 9:00P
The Cardinal Wolsey Hampton

Jul 11 2008 9:00P
The Cardinal Wolsey Hampton

http://www.bluefuses.co.uk/

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Foulplay

Foulplay

The time (before last) that I saw FoulPlay at the cosy and bijou ‘pubette’ that is the Jolly Farmer, Staines, the band had managed to squeeze their four-piece guitar-based band plus amps & speakers plus some keyboards with female vocalist (plus two backing singers), into a space that was just about big enough to seat a pot-plant.
(They normally keep the pot plant on the corner table by the window.)

On that night, the band kept bringing out more and more songs from their plentiful archives like some kind of deranged ‘rock school’ lecturers.

“Do you remember Little Richard? No, well here’s some. Do you remember Rockabilly? No, well here’s some. Do you remember Surf Music? No, well here’s some”….their repertoire included everything ( as in EVERYTHING) from bygone ages of old-time rock and roll and skiffle, through to classics from the glam-rock seventies, big numbers from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and even into modern indie rock territory. I was astonished when the five piece ( and mainly guitar-based combo, remember) attempted- and pulled off with some aplomb- some 2-Tone British Ska.

That was the time before last….

When I saw the band this summer (the summer of 2007) they had a new lead guitar player in the shape of Pete Downes – and, boy, can he play !!!

The lead singer, Lee Ridley, (who uncannily resembles David Brent) is still the main dynamo for the group and provides some nice chunky chords for Pete Downes to ornament and adorn. But they have now ‘lost’ the keyboards. But they retain Carl Gaywood on drums and Huw Stokes on Bass.

When did you last see a band without keyboards attempt a Pink Floyd number? It is typical of these boys to attempt Pink Floyd now they DON’T have keyboards any longer! Yep! The Foul Play boys even did a track from Dark Side of the Moon… God bless ‘em.

So if you like classic rock, and you like some fancy guitar work, and you like a good old sing-song why not go on a musical journey through the entire seven ages of rock with Foul Play?

You could do lot worse than coming down the Jolly Farmer the next night the boys are playing. It could be an education.

[Pic above] David Brent … sorry Lee Ridley foreground, with Pete Downes on lead

Upcoming Shows

Nov 1 2007 9:00P
The Hobgoblin Staines

Nov 10 2007 9:00P
Ye Olde Swan Burnham

Dec 15 2007 9:00P
The Barley Mow Shepperton

Dec 22 2007 9:00P
The Jolly Farmer Staines

Jan 4 2008 9:00P
Filthy McNasty’s at The Red Lion Twickenham

Apr 12 2008 9:00P
The Barley Mow Shepperton

Jun 7 2008 9:00P
The Barley Mow Shepperton

Links

http://www.myspace.com/foulplayuk

http://www.petedownes.com

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