All Traps on Earth – All Traps on Earth (Review) (2018)

Masterpieces are rare animals. Once every few years a monumental flashes like the ‘Drops of Light’ (Drop of Light) by the band All Traps on Earth (All the Traps of the World) land on us. This amazing Swedish album crashed on the international prog-rock community like a meteor and created the top wave. Three members of the Änglagård band, led by Johan Brand, have joined singer Miranda Brand (Johan’s daughter) and a number of other serious and talented musicians. The result – a musical masterpiece at the highest artistic level imaginable.

You can actually live inside this album. It is an abandoned Gothic palace, whose main door is wide open. You can wander through it at night and admire the fine musical architecture, the rare attention to every architectural detail, the inspiring and precise performance, the attention to natural and analog sound – and the deliberate distancing from any sign of industrialization, digitization, alienation and commercialization. Johan Brand is the ‘mastermind’ behind the project, with the intelligent help of classical keyboardist Thomas Johnson. Eric Hamstrom’s drumming is a work of thought of sensitivity, virtuosity, multi-kidney, dynamism and delicacy.

At first glance, the listener finds himself, naturally, comparing All Traps on Earth’s debut album to his seemingly original band – Änglagård. As time goes on one can understand that this is a forgiving but unsuccessful comparison. The organic sound may be similar, certainly on a superficial level, and some of the melodies are somewhat reminiscent of Änglagård’s Scandinavian folk; But in its deepest essence, this is a more diverse, gloomier album and most of the time even more interesting.

The melancholy cover illustration puts the listener in the right mood: the living person, planted in the ground, sending branches to the sky and enjoying a drop of light – while beneath it are buried the dead, twisted, tortured, naked. The first piece, bearing the band’s name, is 18 minutes of horror, splendor, grandeur and splendor: challenging rock that is challenging, multi-faceted, completely unexpected, dramatic and full of life. Like a symphonic poem, the work moves in waves between changing moods, while refusing to succumb to worn-out patterns like house, chorus or linear development of motifs. Such works are written slowly, arduously and laboriously, and only a few are willing to deal with the magnitude of their task of composing.

All Traps on Earth
From right to left: hemmerstrom (drums); Johnson (keyboards); Brand (bass, guitar); Miranda (singing)

The second piece on the album, ‘Magmatic Warning‘, 16 minutes long, alludes to the French influences of the band ‘Magma’ (Magma) but for a moment does not sound copied or shallow. Yes, there is jazz-fusion here but in low doses and without hurting the tension or wasting precious time on ego improvisation. Miranda Choir cruises across waves of mellotron, meets marimba and vibraphone; The wind instrument department includes bass clarinet, trumpet and flute horn, saxophone and side flute; A grand piano paints paintings together with Fender Rhodes, Mogg Voyager, Bass Rickenbacker, Mogg Taurus and a variety of gibbons from the 70s. This is an organic, harmonious and multi-layered vintage celebration, both frightening and pleasing to the ear, the complete opposite of the processed and programmed sounds of 2000s computers: everything here is handcrafted, without samples and shortcuts.

The third work on the album, ‘Omen‘ (a sign, a sign of things to come) is perhaps the most impressionistic, cinematic and free on the album. The Swedish ensemble virtuously utilizes every possible musical and technical skill, and wisely inserts the guest musicians to create varied and new patterns throughout its 13 minutes. The result is convoluted, clever and never falls short of formulas. The fourth piece, ‘First Step’ (first step) is just a relaxing 2-minute passage.

The fifth and final piece on the album, ‘Bortglomed Gardard‘ (Forgotten Farms) closes the album with another 14 minutes of super-philosophical wonder. The work develops with great patience, and does not give up quickly. It has panoramic qualities of time travel. The lyrics, originally sung in Swedish, have been translated for you here:

Forgotten farms

Forgetful farms
At another time
another world
Of eternal dreams

Life imprint
From childhood
When life was magical by angels
Generations of destiny
At another time
another world
Of old traditions

Homeless houses
In the dark
Farms are forgotten forever

Johan Brand, a terribly talented bassist, cites as a reference and direct sources of inspiration the following artists and currents: King Crimson, Goblin, Magma, the Canterbury scene and the acclaimed Italian soundtrack composer, Ennio Morricone. All of these are tall musical trees to hang on to, but the comparison is not unfounded – Brand studied the masters and completed his degree with honors. So it is no wonder that this non-commercial album, released on November 16, 2018, received excellent reviews, entered the top of the prog charts, and was even crowned by many good ones as one of the best prog albums of all time.

Most bands in the world choose to release one mediocre-good album once a year or two. The band All Traps on Earth has chosen to work very hard, for a period of about 5 years (!), on an eclectic album, invested in superhuman levels, ambitious and demanding of himself and his listeners, one that will amaze and amaze the world. When measuring the end result, this is indeed a very rare achievement that only a few, the hard-core fans will listen to. If you have been able to listen to this album in full many times, you are a lucky human being. An exhibition of complex musical delicacies awaits you, one of the best created by western culture in the last 50 years.

In conclusion, we have all waited many years for such an extraordinary album. It arrived, without anybody expecting it. The drop of light of all the traps of the world is a must-have album for purchase, obsessive listening and enjoyment for long months. It is an extraordinary work, exceptionally good, very brave, surprising all the way and very profound; For her, it is definitely worth living on earth with a pair of ears.

Score: 10/10

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Pain of Salvation – One Hour by the Concrete Lake (Review) (1998)

“Lake Karachi has been swallowing nuclear waste for almost 50 years. The radiation from it is so strong that one hour on the shore of this lake will cause death within a few weeks. Today, the entire Karachi lake is covered with concrete.”

The second album by the Swedish band “Pain of Ssalvation” is a fascinating, original and in-depth concept album, which has gained the status of an underground classic. “One Hour by the Concrete Lake” features gloomy but virtuoso music, combining stunning lyrics with tragic prog-metal. The text talks about the consequences of war – how weapons, nuclear pollution, the elimination of open spaces and water shortages make the planet a dangerous and cruel place to live in.

The protagonist of the plot is a “screw” in the arms industry machine, according to the concept’s creator – the band’s leader, Daniel Gildenlöw. The band’s charismatic lead singer has dived deep into the ’90s wars around the world, and found some major culprits on the subject. The pangs of conscience of a war machine worker set in motion a cross-continental journey, which takes us on an adventure of an agonizing self-search project, dealing with inner demons and producing particularly painful lessons.

“One Hour by the Concrete Lake” is an exceptionally powerful prog-metal album, and in an extreme way: it has a lot to say, but it never lets its fine lyrics overshadow the varied and challenging musical arrangements. The five musicians involved – Gildenlöw (vocals, guitar), his brother Christoph (bass, vocals), Johann Halgren (guitar, vocals), Fredrik Hermanson (keyboards) and Johann Langel (drums, vocals) – are very busy throughout the hour. This is a particularly diligent ensemble, which performs complex arrangements with lightness, agility and confidence.

Pain of Salvation – Group photo from 1998

The album is divided into 3 main episodes and 11 tracks in total. The first, “Spirit of the Land” is just a main theme show in 43 seconds; Tracks 2-4 describe the “machine” in which the protagonist of the story operates. Tracks 5-7 depict the “human spirit” fighting against the machine. The last four tracks (8-11) are dedicated to Lake Karachi, where the hero realizes that change begins only in him – the actions he will perform in the world from now on (“from the inside out”).

“Since 1990, 93 wars have broken out in 70 countries around the world, with 5.5 million killed. 75% of these people were civilians, a million of whom were children …”

For Daniel Gildenlöw, the verbal and political messages are completely personal. In fact, he takes every word with abysmal seriousness out of total self-conviction, like a pilgrim on a crusade to save the world; Indeed, the ninth track on the album is called “Pilgrims” (Pilgrim). When Gildenlöw expresses his anger at the ailments of Western culture, he does so as if his life depended on it. He is not just lamenting, he is in pain as if a shell was shot in his stomach. This is what makes his concept effective – it is a dystopian opera led by one great artist, which ignites itself on the altar of the awakening of consciousness.

“I’m awake! I see the mistakes I make.
Hiding the wounds will not relieve the pain.
Sleep will not make you whole.
To change from within … “

The prog-metal genre fits like a glove to this album; Mainly because it deals with gloomy issues from a very pessimistic approach, seemingly – but is willing to offer certain solutions in the end. It may be nightmarish, painful and stinging – but it’s is not completely discouraged. The use of the metallic genre to present hell on earth is self-evident – but the “prog” in the story is Gildenlöw’s insistence on a way out of the crisis. Daniel, the eternal student of humanities research, has not yet lost hope.

This very-late review is written in the midst of the Covid-19 Virus crisis – one of the hardest known to humanity in the 21st century. Once again man has caused a rapid global epidemic due to his insistence on enslaving wild nature to his selfish needs. What started as the filthy cages of a wildlife market in the Chinese city of Wuhan has turned into a huge global disaster that has shut down dozens of countries for months. Gildenlöw was right: Humanity is so preoccupied with industrialization, trade, and economic growth that it forgot its very existence throughout this hyper-economic never-ending process.

“For every machine I leave, I find a bigger one
At every step I get smarter than before
But it burns me … “

On a purely musical level, “Concrete Lake” excels in several distinct elements:


A) Daniel Gildenlöw’s phenomenal poetry, despite the Swedish accent that makes it a bit difficult to understand the words, and therefore sends us to the word booklet to read each line.


B) Hermanson’s symphonic keyboards, which upgrade the band into a modern metal orchestra.


C) The cruel and sarcastic guitars of the Hallgren- Gildenlöw duo, who replace solos and preserve the prog-metal essence of the ensemble.


D) The elegant and smart bass work of the brother, Christophe Gildenlöw.


E) Langel’s nervous drum battery, which does a 3-person job here, spitting blood on the double-bass.

The human connection point to the album lies in its basic idea: the individual’s ability to recognize that he is a “screw in the machine” is greater than him. When you, as a person, understand your role in a huge system – you can make decisions: stay or run away. Anyone who has played any role in a significant organization can identify with Gildenlow’s texts, in the personal dilemma of “Am I willing to be a part of this thing?”. This is our inner compass, which requires us to observe and choose a side in the daily war – otherwise we will continue to suffer, hurt and maybe even self-loathing.

A comparison with other albums in the POS catalog reveals a complex picture: “Concrete Lake” came after the excellent debut album, “Entropia“, which deserves a prize of its own; The pair of albums that came after “Concrete Lake” are considered the best in the band’s career. “The Perfect Element” (2000) is better built, and also better recorded. “Remedy Lane” (2002), especially in its improved remix version (2016) is the pinnacle of the band. But if you compare “Concrete Lake” to the Pink-Floydish rock opera “Be” (2004), then the early ‘Lake of Concrete’ wins over – more kicking, darker, more connected to reality.

An expanded version of the album was released in Japan (Avalon, 1998) with 2 bonus tracks: “Beyond the Mirror” (track #12) is a fairly simple but effective piece; The concept lives very nicely without it, but is still worth listening to. The second and final bonus “Timeweaver’s Tale” (track # 13) is even less impressive, and sounds detached from the sound and style of the album – so it’s for the best that it stayed out of the official version of the “Inside Out” label. Both of these bonuses and one more (“Never learn to Play”) were included on the bonus disc of the album “The Perfect Element”.

In conclusion, ‘One Hour by the Concrete Lake’ is an essential album in the Pain of Salvation catalog. While the two that followed – “The Perfect Element” and “Remedy Line” – were no less impressive, and featured a richer production; And yet, the gloomy and cohesive vision presented by “Concrete Lake” deserves many dozens of listens. It is almost a masterpiece: on the textual level it is perfect, on the musical level it is wonderful, and on the structural level it only disappoints at the end. So the recommendation for the progressive public: Make every effort not to miss this hour from 1998.

Score: 9/10

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Scardust – Strangers Review (2020 M-Theory Audio)

“Strangers”, the second album by the band Scardust, the Israeli prog-metal ensemble, shows a noticeable improvement compared to the debut album released in 2017, “Sands of Time”. The sands of time have done their thing, and the band presents here an upgraded product: tight, coherent, self-assured and more polished even at the level of group formation.

Noa Gruman continues to be Scardust’s built-in attraction and life force. Without underestimating the playing and performing abilities of its four members – Gruman is the ultimate “front-woman”, and manages to make the band one that deserves to be heard and seen on the stage of a metal club. As a singer-songwriter, Grumman performs a wide range of contrasting styles here – hard rock, opera, jazz, gothic choirs, death metal grunts, folk rock and gospel. In short, the Dutch line-up “Epica” has a small and cheeky Middle Eastern competitor who blows his neck pleasantly.

The album opens with an “Overture” of 6 and a half minutes, which is a summary of all the motifs on the album – foreignness and human alienation. “Strangers” is divided into 11 tracks with a total length of 53 minutes – and there is definitely a taste for more. Most of the tracks are quite short, more in the Symphonic metal tradition of “Nightwish” and less in the format of the extended epics of progressive bands at their peak of glory like Dream Theater or Symphony-X, for example.

The strongest track on the album is the fifth, “Concrete Cages“. A 7:21 minute piece that excels in catchy melody and precise group development. The highlight is a guest appearance by musician and singer Patty Gurdy, who also plays a unique string instrument known as “Hurdy Gurdy”. As expected – the Hellscore Choir, conducted by Gruman, sweeps the chorus and turns it into a predictable anthem – which is simply wonderful.

Not surprisingly, there is no instrumental track on the album. Gruman, the formidable soloist, along with her army of choirs, took care to maintain the dominance of a human voice throughout. Scardust does not believe in long solos or virtuoso demonstrations by guitarists in the style of John Petrucci, keyboardist Wakeman or even a drummer who gets more than 20 seconds to showcase his rhythmic skills. The excellent abilities of Yadin Moyal – kind of a young Israeli Michael Romeo – do not attempt to compete here with the erupting energies of the Gruman vocal Empire, which leaves its distinctly dramatic imprint here. Therefore, Moyal is content most of the time with a constant supply of rifle ammunition, of the sort that bounces the metal crowd to the required head-bang mode.

The heaviest metallic piece on the album is “Over” (No. 6), in which the band sounds almost like Symphony-X. Gruman’s growls are utterly chilling, and are cleverly balanced by clean vocals and well-timed additions from the supporting choir. However, there is sometimes a concern that the band relies on worn-out musical patterns, in order to make itself accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

This is especially noticeable in the seventh track (“Under“), on the border of becoming commercialized church gospel. The children’s choir of “Huts” (track 8) sounds great, but the piece ends too quickly and fades from memory. “Gone“‘s repetitive chorus (No. 9) tries to push the brain with all its might, creating the artificial impression of a Eurovision song contest hit, made in Finland or Iceland.

The main advantage of “Strangers” is its quick ability to please both the metal listener and the progressive listener. Scardust’s proven ability to produce catchy songs combines a professional and prestigious musical production (Mix: Jonathan Kosov; Mastering: Jens Bogren), one that easily crosses the Mediterranean into the markets of Western Europe, perhaps even the US. The only (and biggest) downside of the album – is a certain lack of depth and originality. The tracks end a bit too quickly, as if the band admits that it has no pretension to go for a concept with a real statement, create independent patterns or write all-out epics.

In Scardust’s debut album, half of the time was devoted to the epic that bears the name of the album (“Sands of Time“); The work was ambitious, interesting at times but a little hollow and immature. The album “Strangers” does not have a leading concept creation, so it can be said that the band consciously gave up on imprinting a long-term progressive seal. For the sake of the short term, there are too many hasty songs here that obey the tired formula of verse-chorus-verse-chorus; The result is a conventional album that is easier to forget about and move on to the next proggy experience.

In conclusion, Strangers is a fun and easy-to-digest international product for the most part, benefiting from the impressive vocal presence of Noa Gruman (a star in her own right). The band proves itself as a skilled producer of well-constructed songs, some of which are even really sweeping, especially on the melodic level. However, the album is not challenging or deep enough, thus leaving the impression of a young and energetic band, which has not yet gained enough resources or experience to write the creation of its lifetime.

Score: 8/10

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Haken – Virus Review (2020 Inside Out Music)

‘Virus’, the sixth album by the British band ‘Haken’, was released on July 24, 2020, in the midst of an outbreak of the Corona virus. Tens of millions have been infected with the new virus. Hundreds of thousands died from it. The world has changed from end to end. The world of culture has been shut down, including a tour of Haken’s performances. And the band has changed a bit too – and not entirely for the better.

The first question a potential listener of ‘Virus’ asks is: Did the band Haken dedicate the album to Covid-19? The answer, surprisingly, is completely negative. It turns out that the six musicians worked on the viral concept as early as 2018, as part of an early planning that was delayed due to the large amount of performances they had to provide to audiences around the world.

Similar to the fifth and previous album, ‘Vector‘, the listener gets ‘The New Haken’ straight to the face: the opening track ‘Prosthetic‘ is a particularly violent and fast-paced prog-metal attack. This is not a Haken of the early days, but more in the direction of the Swedish ‘Meshuggah’ band meets the American ‘Dream Theater’; A little less than 6 minutes of Haken in its most macho and concise format.

The short-kicking artistic direction continues into the second track, “Invasion” – perhaps the piece that defines the album: riff-based (lead guitar), muscular, blunt and a little too shallow for Haken’s veteran listeners, those who have been with it since the first album released on 2010. “Invasion”, like its predecessor, may be suitable for a live performance at an urban metal club, but does not provide an in-depth musical experience for the home listener. Diego Tehida’s keyboards were buried in the mix, and sadly for us, he almost disappeared here.

The quality improves significantly in the fine mini-epic ‘Carousel‘, the third strip of ‘Virus’, which extends over a great 10 and a half minutes. This is a non-commercialized, diverse, surprising, fascinating and even cinematic Haken. In English, works such as ‘Carousel’ are called ‘Centerpiece’ – the central work. It’s worth listening to ‘Virus’ just to get onto this wonderful progressive carousel.

After the summit of ‘Carousel’, Haken’s virus descends into the valley – two less interesting tracks: ‘The Strain‘ (#4) and ‘Canary Yellow‘ (#5). Both are well made at the level of production and processing; But they are too short, predictable and therefore do not leave a significant trail behind. Ray Hearne’s performance on the drum set is as impressive as ever (he’s a real juggler), but the symphonic depth has been reduced in favor of sparkling and easy-to-digest packaging. This is not blatant commercialization, far from it – but there is a small step here in the direction of ‘comfortable for people’ – music that leaves no real mark.

The epic that closes the album, ‘Messiah Complex‘, is actually a suite in 5 episodes. The work deals with the origins of that infamous Cockroach King who we first met on the masterful album ‘The Mountain‘ which came out in 2013. The Messiah piece addresses the musical and programmatic motifs of that mythological insect, but in many ways it is a stepping stone – as if Haken were trying to ride on previous successes. The vague and mediocre lyrics that accompany the entire album diminish the intensity of the overall effect. The closing epic is unexciting, ineffective and difficult to connect with, even on the textual level.

If one ignores the short and negligible 11th track that closes the album (‘Only Stars‘) – it can be said that this is a somewhat disappointing album for a super-band with the high international standards of the ‘Haken’ bunch.

It is definitely an agonizing time for any active musician in the world, especially for those who make a living from live performances. But the impression is that the band is no longer able to find the inspiration, time and mental strength to produce an exciting masterpiece like ‘The Mountain‘. Particularly lacking is the orchestral-symphonic volume, which can only be produced by Mr. Tejeida’s keyboards – and is almost non-existent here.

In conclusion, Haken’s sixth album is still not what we had hoped for from one of the most interesting and prominent bands in the world of prog. The British ensemble continues to produce advanced, sleek and sophisticated rock, but is no longer as exciting, patient and in-depth as it once was – both in terms of concept and richness of arrangements. ‘Virus’ features some nice moments (‘Carousel’ for example), but it does not compare to the achievements of the progressive group in its early years.

Final Score: 8/10

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Best Prog-Rock Albums of the Decade (2010-2019)

We have a decade to summarize here. So without no further ado, here’s the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the cherry on the cake. These albums have made it to the top of the progressive rock community ratings and reviews:

1) Wobbler – From Silence to Somewhere

2) All Traps on Earth – A Drop of Light

3) Steven Wilson – Hand.Cannot.Erase

4) Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing

5) Anglagard – Viljans Öga

6) IQ – The Road of Bones

7) Camel – The Snow Goose (Re-Recording)

8) Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning

9) Discipline – To Shatter All Accord

10) Phideaux – Snowtorch

11) Big Big Train – English Electric, Part I

12) Haken – The Mountain

13) Motorpsycho – The Death-Defying Unicorn

14) Opeth – Pale Communion

15) iamthemorning – ~

16) Haken – Visions

17) Anekdoten – Till All the Ghosts are Gone

18) Anubis – Tower of Silence

19) Big Big train – English Electric, Part II

20) Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine

 

From the top 20 prog albums we can learn that Steven Wilson is the most notable progressive rock artist of the last decade, with three albums in the final chart (an amazing achievement). Also, the band Haken is the most meaningful group to emerge from the UK prog scene in the last 10 years.

Personally, I don’t agree with the #1 spot acquired by the Wobbler band. It’s a cute band with a cute album, but it seems like Wilson or Haken should have occupied the apex of the decade.

The debut album by “All Traps on Earth” was a huge surprise out of nowhere. Clearly this is an offspring of the Anglagard camp, but nonetheless it’s a magnificent work of art, made in the dark studio for almost five years.

A note about IQ (#6 on the list) – the long-standing UK group have hit “album of the year” award with their 2019 masterpiece, “Resistance” (2-CD), arguably their best work ever.

Sweden & the UK seem to dominate the list, with a few exceptions here and there (USA, Norway and Poland).

Wishing you all a happy new prog-rock decade, with many more exciting albums to enjoy.

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Adrian Belew in Israel 2016: An Interview

adrian-belew-power-trio-2016King Crimson ex-frontman comes back to Tel Aviv for a Power Trio show on February 3rd, 2016. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for his third visit to the Holy Land.

1) First – thanks for coming to Israel again. It should be your 3rd time here. How was the last concert with the Crimson Projeckt in Tel Aviv?

    Adrian Belew: it was amazing. I’m a lucky person to get to travel to so many important places. crimson project is a mighty sounding band I really enjoy working with. it is, among other things, my vehicle to play 33 years worth of king crimson music I helped create. and I love coming to Tel Aviv. this time I’m bringing something I love even more: the power trio. not to be missed! recently we have taken a new approach to playing music live and it’s something no else is doing yet.

2)  “Spotify” seems to be a new digital “enemy” of yours. Judging from your FB posts, you are very worried about the future of professional musicians.

   Adrian Belew: I have no enemies and nothing against spotify per se. I was only dispensing information which I think music lovers should be aware of. I personally make nothing from spotify and it doesn’t matter, that’s not how I thrive. my concern is for the future of those musicians (young and old) still vying for a way to make music their livelihood. I think society is in danger of losing its best “intellectual property creators”of all type by allowing royalty incomes to be the lowest possible rate.

3)  “66 is the new 26” – you’’re recently declared. You’re a very busy artist, performing worldwide, devloping apps and releasing new music. Can you say you’re working harder now than you’ve worked when you were 26 years old?

    Adrian Belew: your age has everything to do with your perception of yourself. most of the time I don’t even feel 20! and it’s a good thing, because I work harder now than ever before. when I was 26 years old I was a skinny starving musician who spent most of his time trying to figure out how to make the rent! with success comes the hard work and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been given a platform of self-expression any artist would cherish and I love what I do.

4)  Your song “This Is What I Believe” from 1992’s “Innver Revolution” album has caught my attention. You wrote: “All the world is dangerous, Full of homicidals and terrorists, But underneath their blanket of hate, The only thing that will survive is our love and faith”. Do you still believe in this today?

Adrian Belew: more than ever. love drives all good things and without faith I would never even board a plane in these dangerous times. but you can’t hide in a corner, you have to live your life. I’m not a politically-minded person, I’m more of a humanist. I often wonder when people will realize we are all the same: human beings. mankind. regardless of our cultures, religions, and skin tones. and we should treat us other accordingly.

5) The great Frank Zappa keeps appearing in your publications, memories and annoucements. You’re very proud of his endorsement “Adrian Belew re-invenvted the guitar”. Since his death, can you name a new musical genius in the world? is there anyone in his level? was Zappa a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon?

  Adrian Belew: there will never be another frank zappa, he was utterly unique. I am fortunate to have worked up close with him and I owe him a great deal for helping me. I can’t name new musical geniuses because I don’t listen to other people’s music anymore. I learned years ago to stay focused on the music I hear in my head and for me that means shutting out everything else. I know that sounds awful and I’m sorry, but it is the best way for me.

6) One of your great songs “Asleep” says, simply: “one day you wake up. But you didn’t even know you were alseep”. It was written after 9/11. Did that dramatic event *really* wake us up, in hindsight? I mean – maybe we all just woke up for a few minutes and then fell asleep again?

   Adrian Belew: “this is a dangerous place”.  I wrote that line in 1981. so I have been awake for a while. “asleep”was indeed written regarding 9/11. it doesn’t seem to have”woken all of us up”enough, but I think it is more profound for some of us than others. it did manage to change life forever, especially here in america where we can never go back to the way we were.

7) You’ve travelled all over the world and performed in so many cities. Can you nail down the #1 gig of your life so far? I know it’s really hard to do, but would you please be so kind as to pinpoint one particular music event that you always look back to as the “singular moment” of a long career?

 Adrian Belew: there are so many many moments I could name, but you are most impressionable when you’re young. when I was only 28 years old I remember standing on the stage of madison square gardens in new york city right next to david bowie playing to a sold out audience of thousands! the front rows were filled with famous people of all sorts including andy warhol, dustin hoffman, mick jagger, and interestingly enough: talking heads. that was quite a moment.

8)  The Music Industry has changed: Once it was the gig promoting the album. Now it’s the album promoting the gig. Do you find yourself performing much more than ever before, or it’s business as usual?

Adrian Belew: I do perform now more than ever, especially internationally, but it’s because I love it (in small doses). live performance is now the primary source of income for most musicians whether they love it or not. it’s the one thing the bad guys haven’t yet figured out how to steal from us! there were years in my life when I dreaded touring, but at some point it turned around 180 degrees. now I enjoy touring. (in small doses). there is something entirely zen about performing live. a performance happens once and it seems like in an instant it’s over!

9) You always talked about the compromise a musician like yourself has to make within a band format, with all the frustration that goes with it. You prefer to create alone, just like a painter with his canvas. Having said that – isn’t it amazing what King Crimson (for example) has achieved with this huge compromise — in retrospect, of course?

  Adrian Belew: I complain too much and too loud about many things. it’s part of my nature to point out the negatives before moving on to the positives. but once I’ve done so I can really enjoy the positives! clearly my life is a balancing act: family time, career time. touring, recording. writing, performing. digital, analog. collaboration, solo work. I need a diet of all these things and being in a band is very important to me. king crimson is and will always be one of the most important collaborations of my career and nothing can change that. for me it was mostly fantastic.

10) I’ve read your post about your first concert ever – The Beatles at Crosley Field in Cincinnati back in 1966. You say Paul McCartney is your favorite artist of all time. You’ve met both Paul and Ringo. Sometimes you sound like Lennon himself. Are you still creating music today that is directly inspired by the Beatles?

  Adrian Belew: yes. that cannot change either because it’s in my musical DNA. I learned enough from the beatles (at a young impressionable age) to set me on creative fire for life.

The Adrian Belew Power Trio will perform live in Tel Aviv’s Barby Club, on February 3rd 2016. Julie Slick (Bass) and Tobias Ralph (Drums) will help Adrian Belew (Guitars, Vocals) make this a great evening.

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Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cancel Israel gig

“Due to the present ongoing problems in Israel with all the recent shootings and people getting kicked to death in public etc, the band do not feel safe or secure with the idea of playing Tel Aviv, and as the ticket sales are also not very good I think it is in everybody’s best interests that we cancel the show now. Thank you for your understanding and I am sorry that it did not work out”.

That’s how Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cancelled their Israeli gig, scheduled for January 19th in Tel Aviv’s Reading-3  club. The security issue angered Israeli ticket buyers, who felt cheated and humiliated.

The show was originally scheduled for September 21st, 2015. Although the band has informed the Israeli promoter on November 3rd, the show only was officially cancelled in the last minute by the Israel production, citing difficulties with locating a proper Organ for famed keyboardist Manfred Mann. Ticket buyers were suspicious about the whole thing, but a new date was set (19/01/2016) and things looked fine.

On November 23, the band issued a quick statement, cancelling the gig:

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However, the Israeli promoter, “Progstage”, refused to accept the situation. A wave of terror has swept Israel since September 2015, centering around the Temple Mount. The guys at ProgStage did not cancel the gig, and kept on selling tickets to Israeli consumers.

As the show’s January 19 date was getting closer, the UK band was bombed with questions from Israelis: are you coming or not? so they issued another statement on January 13th:

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After this annoucement, the Israeli promotor had no option but to cancel. However, this is where things got ugly. Progstage staff accused Manfred Mann’s management of joining a cultural boycott against Israel (BDS). This, despite the band’s sweeping denial of any such attempt.

It should be noted that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band has performed in Israel on May 2004. The band gave two gigs in Tel Aviv and Haifa. So clearly, at least some of the band members what Israel is like.

After the Israeli press turned the lost gig into a minor political scandal, the summary is quite simple: many UK artists don’t feel safe in Israel. They watch BBC News and see an endless stream of terror attacks throughout Israel, including the occupied territories. People are being stabbed in the streets of Jerusalem, Hebron and many more cities. Many Palestinians are being shot to death by soldiers, sometimes on a daily basis.

Justin Hayward (for The Moody Blues), for example, also cancelled his Tel Aviv gig after two attemps of rescheduling. American band “Kansas” also cancelled their gig back in August 2014, because of the war with Gaza.

We, Israelis, understand why some rock groups decide to avoid visiting Israel. However, it should be noted that many big rock bands have perfomed successfully in Israel lately. Bon Jovi, Art Garfunkel, Suede and the Rolling Stones are just some of the artists who ignored the security concerns. Even the great Elton John is scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park on May 26th, 2016.

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Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – 2015 Promo Photo

 

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The Endless River: 5/10 – Worst Pink Floyd Album Ever Made

endless-river-pink-floyd-200[1]The Endless River, the 15th studio album by Pink Floyd, is a predictable disappointment. There are no great songs, no flashes of brilliance, no musical surprises and there is nothing exciting for PF fans.

We did not have “High Hopes” anyway, since the actual band broke up 20 years ago. Loyal fans of the British ensemble, adoring the guys for almost 50 years, did not really expect to receive an old-new album such as this money-making concoction. “The Endless river” is said to be a “tribute” to the late keyboardist Richard Wright, though it’s not at all clear that Wright, a fairly critical chap, would have expressed great satisfaction from the final result, had he been alive and kicking today. It’s more of a tribute to their record company.

How can leftover jam-session pieces made in 1993 for the Division Bell album, released way back in 1994, compete with the great works of the majestic Pink Floyd? It’s sad to say, but there is no competition with the ‘golden age’ of Floyd. The truth is, it takes a superhuman effort to put together something worthy of brain-ear intercation, from over 20 hours of useless studio jam sessions.

David Gilmour and Nick Mason had to recruit a team of musical producers and tech wizards, add new solos, throw in a mass of digital studio effects and try to build a consistent product, on par with the band’s perfect sonic reputation. But when time comes for the bottom line, “The Endless River” is nothing more than an elegant anesthetic for aging fans, which have become comfortably numb.

The album opens the voice of Richard Wright, the now-missing member, which says, ‘certainly we had an unspoken understanding’, and “There are many things that are left unsaid”. Gilmore adds its own statement, “Sometimes we fight, argue, and then work it out’, or something to that effect. Combining interviews at the opening of an album is an old trick from 1973 (‘ Dark Side Of The Moon ‘), offered by none other than Roger Waters. After a brief reunion with Waters in 2005, millions of Floyd-heads had renewed hope for a renaissance. The irritating Roger is missed (How I Wish you Were Here), at least those who think some political criticism is not the end of the world.

The direction of the endless cruise is highly ‘Ambient‘ (perhaps far too ambient), almost like a nostalgic fantasy filled with flashbacks, daydreams and perhaps some kind of polite longing for a gray and shy person. This is not the first time the Floyds mourn a lost band member. But unlike the grand lamentations about the colorful Syd Barrett, here it feels like browsing an old family album, with all the photos in black and white, faded, almost lifeless.

Throughout the album you can feel an attempt to recover and recycle great moments from classical albums like ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Animals’, ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ and even some “The Wall” (“Alons-Y” sounds like a reproduction of “Run Like Hell”). Sometimes this is done in a gentle and implicit manner, and sometimes a little more blunt. The opening of “Anisina”, for example, sounds like “Us and Them” from The Dark Side, and Gilad Atzmon’s saxophone only strengthens the resemblance. The short track ‘Skins’ quotes the famous Tom-tom drums of “Time”. ‘It’s What We do’ sounds just like the final moments of ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’. “On Noodle Street” is elevator music, and ‘Calling’ can be a subsection of a soundtrack to a quite-pale documentary film about the Amazon river.

Naturally, the slow and ambient atmosphere is reminiscent of the less-than-dramatic sections from “The Division Bell“; But the music here, which is in fact just sleepy improvisations on the same three or four chords, is far less ambitious; In the absence of any meaningful text or true concept, they have no artistic direction, musical statement and lyrical depth. Some tracks are just too damn brief to be memorable at all. And above all, quite a few minutes sound too much like ‘On An Island’, Gilmour’s quite-nice solo attempt from 2006, which was far better-flowing than this mundane river.

Two tracks stand out from the ambience: “It’s What We Do“, and the only straight song, “Louder Than Words“. Polly Samson’s text is neo-kitsch, self-flattering and not very bright. Gilmour’s lovely guitar still sounds good here, with Mason and Wright giving the respectable guitarist all the space he needs for the right “take”. Bass roles, reserved in the past for Mr. Roger Waters, are now scattered between Gilmour, Guy Pratt, Bob Ezrin and Andy Jackson.

It is never pleasant to say negative things about a Pink Floyd album. Sometimes this ‘dirty work’ just has to be done, if you really love someone. Ironically, the new album actually highlights the greatness of the band at its peak, especially in the years 1973-1979. Even a hollow album like “The Division Bell” suddenly sounds so consistent, enjoyable and even inspiring, compared with the collection of meaningless glimpses. This endless river noq easily inherits 1987’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” disaster as the worst Pink Floyd album ever.

What motivated this negligible release? contractual obligations, an attempt to promote the back catalog (endless stream of 5.1 remasters), a new cashflow to the Wright family (note Wright’s name in the credits, again and again), or maybe even silencing the fans who demanded one last PF product. Perhaps we will never know what was behind the decision of David Gilmour to pull out the old tapes, sit patiently by the computer and the team of produers, and pretend that Pink Floyd is not just a company (corporation) with limited liability established in 1987, but also an artistic entity with a noble cause.

The ultimate test of any music album is the number of repeated listens. The Endless River does not arouse any desire to continue to listen to it in the future. It’s not because it sounds amateurish or ostentatiously embarrassing, not because the music does not sound “Floydish”. Luckily, though, there are at least 14 other good albums to choose from.

Conclusion: The Endless River is not a river you want to cruise in. The fountain of inspiration has dried out, long ago. A tribute to the late Richard Wright was not necessary at all. Every note in this album has already appeared in better form and context, inside past albmus made by the glorious Waters, Gilmour, Mason & Wright. Therefore, young listeners are cautioned not to start the introduction to Pink Floyd with this strange product.

Score: 5/10

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Genesis Together and Apart – BBC2 Documentary Review (7/10)

It’s very hard to say anything new about the Genesis story, and the BBC’s latest attempt, “Together and Apart“, which aired in the UK on October 4th (2014) was a failure at that point. Not only was it superficial, but it collapsed under its own weighty mission: to cover not only the band’s life-work, but to touch on multiple solo projects of band members.

The result was a mildly entertaining, but not very satisfactory, piece of public relations work, hiding behind the respectable cloak of “documentary” artisan-ship, and spanning only 90 minutes.

BBC Two - Genesis: Together and Apart

Genesis band members have interviewed themselves to death over the years. Their CD and DVD boxes were filled with extensive talking-head bits, describing in detail practically every album and song made by the band over their super-long history (1967-2007).

It would take more than 3 hours of video to handle this project with any level of respect. At least 2 hours for the band and 1 hour for the solo albums. Peter Gabriel’s work is, perhaps, the most influential. Not only has Gabriel’s music opened the doors for the world-music genre, but his political involvement justifies much more attention than BBC-2 was willing to give.

Besides the five band members, the film included exactly 20 interviewees, some of them from outside the band’s professional circle, with less interesting stories to contribute.

 

Missing pieces from the Genesis puzzle

  • Chris Stewart – first Genesis drummer. Wasn’t interviewed or mentioned in “Together and Apart”
  • Jonathan King – first producer for Genesis. His prison sentence wasn’t mentioned, perhaps in exchange for his willingness to participate in the film.
  • John Silver – 2nd Genesis drummer. Just like Stewart, he wasn’t interviewed or mentioned.
  • John Mayhew – 3rd Genesis drummer. As you’ve guessed, wasn’t interviewed or mentioned.
  • John Anthony – producer for the Trespass album. Totally ignored.
  • Paul Whitehead – artist for early Genesis albums. Didn’t make it to BBC’s final cut.
  • Anthony Phillips – his solo work wasn’t covered in any way.
  • King Crimson – huge influence on Genesis. Not a word in the docu.
  • The Nice – direct influence on “The Knife” epic piece. BBC viewers will not know that.
  • John Burns – producer for three early Genesis albums. Not in film.
  • Tony Stratton-Smith (“Strat”) – Charisma label for Genesis. The band’s real patron and godfather. He’s dead, but wasn’t included even through archive pieces.
  • Jill Moore – first wife of Peter Gabriel. Critical to “The Lamb” period, photographed but not interviewed.
  • Brand-X – Jazz-Fusion group, side-project for Phil Collins in the 70’s. No real mention of the albums, band members or significance.
  • Bill Bruford – hired drummer for late 70’s Genesis tour. Not mentioned.
  • Steve Hackett’s solo career – not included at all. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the film. Hackett is furious over this. Maybe the longer DVD version will fix that.
  • Milton Keynes Bowl reunion concert (1982) – important gig for the five. Not a trace.
  • Nick Davis – producer for We Can’t Dance. Wasn’t on BBC.
  • Ray Wilson – new singer after Phil Collins left in 1996. A huge miss for the film.
  • Calling All Stations – Genesis album in 1997. Impossibly, not mentioned in the film.
  • Genesis Archive box set (67-75) – great project that didn’t get any mention.
  • Three Remaster Box Sets: 70-75, 76-82, 83-98 – all three dismissed.
  • Collins’ 2007 accident on tour – reason for his inability to drum. Missing from final edit.
  • Genesis Live 1973–2007 – another box-set that was thrown out of the film’s “plot”.
  • Genesis Revisited II – even Hackett’s reworking of Genesis classics has been left out.
  • Influence on other bands – a subject that didn’t appear anywhere. Marillion’s just one example.
  • Tribute Bands – great groups such as The Musical Box and ReGenesis are missed here.
  • Hall of Fame Induction – both Genesis & Gabriel. Not there in the film.

Summary

Any short biography book, like “Genesis Inside & Out” (by Robin Platts) gives you a fuller and a truer picture of the band’s story, compared with BBC-2’s “Together and Apart”. Of course it’s better than VH1 short docu (44 mins.), but it seems like too many important milestones and people were not even interviewed, because a 90-minute duration is just not enough to cover this epic journey.

genesis-sum-of-its-parts-blurayThe DVD-BluRay edition, titled “Sum of its Parts”, has 30 minutes of extra footage, but it doesn’t showcase an expanded narrative or different interviewees. So, the jury is out and the rating is pretty low: 7/10 for “Genesis – Together and Apart”, a PR product to promote the “R-Kive” 3CD set.

The real documentary on Genesis has not been produced yet. It would take much more work, and complete editorial freedom to include the darker stories of the band, the chapters untold in the BBC dry-cleaning effort, and a wider perspective on the band’s work on the rock, pop and prog-rock world.

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Kate Bush Live 2014: What went wrong?

How could it be that returning after 35 years, one of the most gifted artists of our times feels the need to wow the audience with visual theatrics rather than play her wonderful songs?

by O. Shinar (Eventim Apollo, London, Sep 19th 2014)

The news was so outrageous it seems something was wrong: could it be that Kate Bush has just announced a return to live performance, after so many years? Sure, there were some signs of that materializing – she has returned to album making, was seen in public accepting an award and also spoke of a possible return to the stage. But few seemed to have believed her. Kate Bush was famous for being a recluse, content on creating music while shying away from ever meeting a live audience. The ‘Before the Dawn’ concerts have thankfully shattered this conception. Unfortunately, they have also broke other perceptions, in a more disconcerting manner.

Kate Bush did return to the stage, as we all know, working secretly for more than a year on a lavish and intricate stage production, together with some of the most talented people in theater, lightning and special effects. Dancers, singers and, of course, musicians were also part of the menu, as was one special teenager, Kate’s own son, Bertie, who has become a regular fixture in her albums since ‘Aerial’ (2005), almost a decade ago. The show might have never come into fruition without him, notes Bush, and indeed it is hard to miss his many roles in the concert – singing, dancing, playing various acting parts, etc.

Young Bertie’s presence seems to be a plausible explanation for the show immature tendencies, yet when push comes to shove, given the artist in question has time and time again proved to be hands-on with regard to all aspects of her work, including semi hidden etching on her vinyl singles, it should be assumed that, for better or worse, the concerts are a reflection of Kate Bush’s own vision rather than anyone else, including her son.

Yet the show was deeply upsetting for me as it seemed focused on visuals rather than sounds. This has been a great disappointment for me, having spent thousands of pounds travelling with my children to the UK for the concert at the London Apollo. It was natural to assume we will witness some balance between what was important for Kate and what could be expected of her, i.e., singing some of her brilliant musical achievements of yesteryear but also as of late. Songs like ‘In a Coral Room’ or ‘Snowflake’, which are widely regarded among the peak of her work, are rather recent and therefore could have been included in a show which would suggest Bush is still very much a rare musical genius.

However, while the inclusion of many of the ‘Hounds of Love’ songs, including ‘The Ninth Wave’ was expected, Bush has also added obscure songs under the heading ‘Hits’, some of which were never even released as singles, let alone attained popular following.

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Theater of Kate Bush Show

Eventim Apollo, London, September 19th 2014

It is possible to explain the omission of the earlier materials, some of which have been played live during the 1979 tour, but Bush decision to completely disregard more recent album such as ‘The Sensual World’ is a mystery. Well, at least somewhat of a mystery until one realizes ‘Never be Mine’, one of the most haunting songs ever recorded by Bush as to be included in the ‘Hits’ section, dropped, possibly at the last moment, due to the length of the show – three hours – one could assume. While this makes sense, in the context of having to shorten a very lengthy live concert, one which has been repeated almost every night during two months in the summer of 2014, the question still remains, why such a brilliant song, the only one from an entire album, was cut, rather than much less known and interesting songs.

"Never Be Mine" in the computer set-list

“Never Be Mine” in the computer set-list (Photo; O. Shinar)

The concert’s final section, the second half of ‘Aerial’, ‘A Sky of Honey’, provided a possible key to understanding the Bush criterion for song selection – visual aspects of the performance seemed more important to her than the sound. While the musicians faded into the background, literally shoved into the far reaches of the giant stage, birds, huge canvasses, the sun and the moon as well as a myriad of other stage antics were introduces in a spellbinding manner, spinning the heads of all present and making sure the musical experience become a soundtrack to some of the most amazing images, such as a huge, slowly revolving, yellowish moon, which was as real as the dancers who shared the stage.

For an artist who chose to transcend the need for tangible contact with the audience for so long, creating a show which included a selection of songs based on visual merit is unfortunate.

I’m probably missing something. Most critics and members of the audience wrote favorably and enthusiastically about the concerts. Many wrote of the Clouds passing us from above, the giant trees crashing on stage, the troop of skeleton-skinned fish patrolling the stage, which become a sea in which Bush drowns during the Ninth Wave reincarnation. Yet few contemplated the fact that the choice of song could and should have been significantly different.

Yet even more regretful was the heavy handed use of tapes and digital sounds rather than real musicians. A single violin player would have done wonders for the aural experience, while a small orchestra would have never been out of place given its extensive presence in the majority of Bush’s albums. Indeed, the songs renditions suffered, culminating in the abysmal omission of the counter melody in the show final song ‘Cloudbusting’. The audience seems content of just hearing the song. I wonder how many have noticed to lack of the delightful line played by the cellos on the album.

What to make of all of this? Perhaps the fear of performing pushed Kate into making such a bigger than life experience, one in which Kate herself is dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of the experience.

Kate Bush’s warm and wonderful voice is still very much there. It is still amazingly beautiful, lacking nothing, even if the range is a little more limited than before. Hence, she could have sung with ease most of the post 1985 songs.

For many, including myself, Kate bush is the most brilliant female artist alive today. She is among the most gifted musicians of our time, disregarding gender. When she sings other people’s songs, it becomes clear that her voice is a rare gift: Elton John suggests Kate Bush contribution to Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ saved his life. Is there a bigger compliment? Unfortunately, much of her brilliance was lost on ‘Before the Dawn’.

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