DOCKER’S GUILD – THE MYSTIC TECHNOCRACY (SEASON 1: THE AGE OF IGNORANCE)

Released 15 June 2012 on Lion Music

Now here we have a bit of a treat for all lovers of progressive rock.  Written and led by the keyboard dazzle of Douglas Docker, the cunningly named Docker’s Guild sees a whole host of first class musicians involved in this, the first part of a series of albums.  How do the following grab you? Vocalists John Payne (Asia), Goran Edman (ex Malmsteen, Karmakanic), Tony Mills (TNT) and Amanda Somerville (Avantasia, Epica),  guitarists Guthrie Govan (Asia) and Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), bassist Tony Franklin (Blue Murder) and drummers Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth / Joe Satriani) and Magnus Jacobson (Miss Behavior). Not bad eh and fortunately the album sees good use of all amongst captivating compositions that have depth and soul.

The sound of The Mystic Technocracy results from the mixture of several music styles. Progressive rock is the main driving force with reference points in sound being Yes, ELP, Dream Theater and Genesis.  Whilst the songwriting and vocal arrangements have an air of more traditional melodic rock and AOR acts, mostly Asia and Journey about them.

Couple this with more subtle and unusual influences from the likes of David Bowie (including a great cover of “Loving The Alien”) and Jean-Michel Jarre and you will start to see how this is a big sounding record.

The Mystic Technocracy is perhaps, to be expected, a concept album (or first part of). It is the fictional outcome of a very simple observation: for 4000 years man has tortured, murdered, waged warfare and committed genocide in the name of the same God worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the three monotheistic religions. It is not a story against religion, but it is a story about the madness of man when he falls under the influence of fanatical dogmatic faith. This religious premise has then been plugged into a science-fiction universe, in which religion was created by a silicon-based life form, the Mystic Technocracy, in order to control, manipulate and eventually destroy humanity.

Song wise the album contains complex multi-section suites, more straightforward rock songs or ballads, as well as more unusual instrumental or groove-oriented tracks.

Highlights are pretty much all over, and whilst it make take a few spins to fully take stock of all on offer there are many moments of instant gratification such as the driving rock of the title track “The Mystic Technocracy” home to chugging riffs, parping keyboards and big vocals.  The 8 minute epic “Darwin’s Tears” showcases some of the more obscure influences mentioned but really works being a very compelling composition.  “Judeo Christian Cosmogony” and the 11 minute 3 part-er “The Secret Of DNA” have everything plus the kitchen sink in them but are no worse off for it.  Overall its compelling stuff with great performances from all involved.

Negatives? Not many, perhaps the guitars sound a little digitised being devoid of midrange but in a way this helps create a more “space age” quality to the music and is a small gripe.

Sonically the album is big, perhaps to be expected where keyboards (and variants of) make up a big part of the sonic landscape but its well mixed by Simon Hanhart (producer of Asia, Marillion and Arena) and mastered by Mike Lind (Dio, Talisman, Candlemass etc) so no complaints here either.  The artwork inlay also promises to be a lush affair designed by the excellent Carl-Andre Beckston (aka monowasp).

Fans of any of the classic big prog names, or indeed newer variants ala Ayreon etc are urged to check this album out when released.  A work of art is here with the emphasis firmly on songs and it promises to be a superb journey on future releases.

Rating – 94%

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INFINITY OVERTURE – WELCOME TO INFINITY PT.1 (REVIEW)

Released January 21st 2011 on Lion Music

It’s often considered dangerous when a band sees fit to change musical styles.  That said, in the case of Danish metallers Infinity Overture that change is actually one that works. 

The band formerly delivered a debut in a symphonic metal vein on “Welcome To Infinity” (with Ian Parry on vocals) and a fine offering it was too, yet underneath there were progressive elements and some gothic overtones.    Band leader / guitarist Niels Vejlyt has seen fit to ring the changes bringing out these  “darker” elements further and also changing band personnel to better suit the new stripped back style.  So out is Ian Parry and in is newcomer female vocalist Kimmie Tenna Nielsen who is a superb find possessing a voice that is angelic yet powerful at the same time.  I am not normally one for female vocalists in metal but Niels has found a diamond here.

Musically the band deliver dark metal with lots of 7 string guitar and virtuosic solos but overall strong songs which are extremely well crafted.  Sonically the album is clean, clear and vibrant (mix by Sascha Paeth).  A couple of guest appearances from Fabio Lione (Rhapsody Of Fire) and Amanda Somerville add some further textures yet the band of Vejlyt, Nielsen, bassist Bernardo Fesch and drummer Jakob Vand hold a tight ship. 

Highlight come in the guise of opener “The Hunger”, “Secrets”, “Smoke & Mirrors” and the title track.  But my favourite track comes in the form of the melodic waters of “Angels” where Nielsen is quite superb and this is equalled by the soulful guitar solo from Vejlyt.  This track is worth the price of admission alone.

Overall “Welcome To Infinity pt.1” could be seen as a fresh start for the band in its own right and to these ears a direction much more to my liking.  The song writing is inspired, the performances top notch and its well packaged too.  Check it out.

Rating – 90%

KISKE SOMERVILLE – S/T (REVIEW)

Out Now – Frontiers Records
 
Michael Kiske is a great singer, no arguing that point. His performance on Helloween’s seminal “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” albums had him marked for greatness. It wasn’t to be, however. Kiske has gone on record time and again how he doesn’t want to make metal music and basically disappeared from the scene. He’s done some solo stuff and several guest performances on distinctly metallic projects. Not to mention his work with Place Vendome, a project he preferred not to refer to as metal. So how come this new album falls decidedly in the metal corner of the market? Money talks and bullshit walks I guess…

Opening track “Nothing Left To Say” wouldn’t be out of place on a Primal Fear album. Second track “Silence” is aimed squarely at the Evanescence/Within Temptation crowd, with those annoying contemporary keyboards and choppy guitar riffs that have been done to death in this genre. “If I Had A Wish” is a faux-Helloween track. Only lacking the power that made that band so enjoyable. And so it goes on. Primal Fear, Helloween, Epica and After Forever all alternate with varying degrees of success. You can’t help but feel this album has been put together after a marketing study to determine what the present day metal fan expects. “Rain” is a particularly insipid song.

Both singers are a cut above average, even if Kiske has lost some of his mojo over the years. Unfortunately I find their voices don’t mesh together particularly well. Production and execution are both solid if not particularly inspired.

A formulaic and bland album. Faceless and lacking excitement.

Rating – 60%
Review by Sancho
 

ISSA – SIGN OF ANGELS (REVIEW)

Out Now – Frontiers Records
 
Frontiers can’t find enough superlatives for Issa it seems. You’d be forgiven for thinking she’s the best thing to come along since not only sliced bread but warm water as well.

There’s no denying we’re dealing with a young lady who is quite easy on the eyes. One who’s blessed with a decent (if not exceptional) set of pipes, even. But there’s a vibe of Britney-goes-metal about the whole promotion that doesn’t sit well with me.

Frontiers drummed up a solid backing band and got some outside songwriting help. Inspiration can’t be bought however and, much like on the Kiske/Somerville release, we’re left with an album that reeks of day job tedium.

Most of the songs will leave you wondering “where have I heard this before”.
Understandably so. You get the expected mishmash of “female fronted metal” (what a horrible term), contemporary Scandinavian metal and some AOR thrown in for good measure.

Is it bad? Not really. It’s hard to find fault with the performances on offer, even if Issa’s voice gets quite nasal at times. There’s even several quite catchy choruses. But there is no sense of excitement, no thrill. This album really has an unpleasant whiff of pre-packaged product about it. Like the winner of a “Metal Idol” contest… If that doesn’t bother you feel free to add at least ten points to my rating.

Rating – 68%
Review by Sancho