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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ASIA – XXX

Released 29 June 2012 on Frontiers

Asia’s reunion seems to have rejunevated the franchise. On this, their thirtieth anniversary album, the band sound remarkably fresh and vibrant.

The typical poppy take on prog (e.g. “I Know How You Feel”) that characterised their multi-million selling debut has remained a constant throughout those thirty years. Production isn’t quite as bombastic but they manage to avoid the 21st century’s bargain basement cottage industry sound that plagues the genre since the demise of big recording budgets.

No qualms on the songwriting front either. Tracks like “Bury Me In Willow”, “Faithful” or “Face On The Bridge” can stand proud alongside anything in Asia’s extensive catalogue.

Instrumentally, the band delivers, but Steve Howe will never be among my favourite guitarists.

Asia celebrate their 30th anniversary with a fine album that consolidates their position as one of prog’s true super groups. Nice.

Rating – 85%
Review Sancho

MARTY FRIEDMAN – TOKYO JUKEBOX (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Mascot Records

 When one of the worlds’ best metal lead guitarists decides to release an album in the J-Pop style (that’s Japanese Pop for those not in the know) then you are right to feel a little trepidation.  However, if you look into what makes up J-Pop then you will discover it’s nothing like the pop we know in Europe or the USA.  Manufactured “pop idol” and gangsta rap don’t come into the equation in Japan, but rock does and it appears rock transcends all genre boundaries and fully embraces itself into pop culture – hoorah.   

So former Megadeth fret blisterer Marty Friedman (who is seen as a demi-god in the land of the rising sun) has not only moved to Japan to fully embrace its culture but decided to get himself a piece of J-pop action as it where (arguably the next logical step after moving there) and the results are on his new album “Tokyo Jukebox”, which is instrumental versions of popular Japanese tracks and in all honesty its not half as bad I feared it might be.   The songs were chosen in part by the readers of “Nikkei Entertainment!”, Japan`s all time number one entertainment magazine, which features a popular page on Marty each month for over three years and still going strong.

Essentially this is big guitar melodies over rocking back beats (mostly supplied by  Steve Vai drummer Jeremy Colson), its modern in its approach yet also classic in its melodies and for guitar fiends this is all rather enjoyable, although it does feel a little “novelty” in places thanks to a lot of the programmed backings where it does sound a little karaoke, or should that be guitaroke?  Friedman however sounds more inspired that he did on his last solo album “Loudspeaker”, however whether this will manifest itself into big time spent on my jukebox remains to be seen as although its all good fun when its on I don’t find myself wanting to put it on again, yet when it is on I don’t find myself skipping.

Time will tell but for now this is competent enough and Friedman delivers strong lead work over a different format to what many fans may be used to.  Give it a chance.

Rating – 75%



KATSU OHTA OF ARK STORM INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted June 2005

About The Interview.
Katsu Ohta is one of the star players of the blossoming Japanese neo-classical metal scene.  Katsu is the guitarist and leader of Ark Storm who are becoming quite a sensation on the Japanese metal scene, to date only one of their 3 albums have been released outside their native Japan, but we manageed to track down Katsu and find out his thoughts on the band, their excellent latest album ‘The Everlasting Wheel’ and find out what else if going to happen in 2005.

The interview was the first interview done by Katsu in English and to the best of my knowledge perhaps the only one.  It’s been a steady favourite over the years in terms of hits at the old site so its fitting its kept on here on the new home.

Many thanks to Nikki Matsumoto for translating Katsu’s answers and assistance with arranging the interview.

Katsu, many thanks for agreeing to this interview. First, I would like to congratulate you on “The Everlasting Wheel”; it’s a superb slice of neo-classical metal. When did you start writing for the album?
Thanks to you too. I started writing material for the album back in January of 2004. I came up with about 15 songs in the next 4 months.

What does your writing process normally involve?
It depends really. But I normally come up with a melody for a singer or start chunking a guitar riff and take it from there. One of these 2 patterns normally. And when I hand out a song to the rest of the band, it is usually near completion as far as arrangements and melody go.

How long did it take to record?
It took about 20 days for the recording, not counting the hours of pre-production rehearsals for the recording.

What did set out to achieve with this album?
I wanted to have a meaning and as the album title suggests, the meaning Of eternity was what I had in mind. I wasn’t really concerned about anything else.

I hear a slightly more streamlined and commercial album compared to “Beginning Of The New Legend“, was this an aim of the album?
No, it was not something we intended to do. But we built the whole production with mainly melodies in mind. The melody line was the key for the song writing. So I am not surprised that people feel the sense of commercialism to some degree. We just did what we wanted to do as Ark Storm on our own way. And the result just happened this way naturally. It may fit into the current trend or whatever but it wasn’t aimed anyway intentionally.

How has the reaction been to the album in Japan?
We have been getting quite pleasant reaction from the fans, it’s been really good. The fan basis is growing and getting bigger and bigger day by day  as it seems. But the Japanese HM magazines don’t give us good evaluation, even though the fans are supporting us and spreading bigger.

What are your thoughts now on “Beginning Of The New Legend” and “No Boundaries”?
I feel like there had been so much left undone. I am not satisfied completely with any of those pieces. But that is how I should feel probably. I never ever get totally content with my work. If I ever did, it would be pretty much the end of my aspiration. I always find something new when I’mwriting or playing.

“Beginning Of The New Legend” was released in Europe, are there any plans to release “The Everlasting Wheel” outside Japan?
It’s all up to the record company. But I have not heard anything on that matter.

How did you hook up with the other members of Ark Storm?
I selected them on my own, one by one. I wanted real professionals, you know. Before the release of the first album, it was hard to find right musicians. I wanted the best of the Japanese when the time for the second album was approaching. So I got them now.

What made you want to play guitar?
One of my uncles gave me a real old trashy classical guitar and that was the start.

I see you use Scalloped Stratocasters, what made you start using a scalloped neck and why?
I started it because I liked Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth when he was with the Scorpions. Now I still use scalloped neck all the time because It gives me the vibrato I want.

There’s a couple of Marshall Amps on your website, what models do you use and are there any modifications done to them?
It’s a 1978 Marshall 100w. The guitar technician of my own modifies it mainly on the tones.

What effect / overdrive pedals do you use?
It depends, case by case. But most of the times, I use a DOD or a Tube Screamer by Ibanez. Those two are my main effects.

Does the band have any plans to record a live album / DVD?
There is no plan for it as far as I’m concerned. But I do want to release DVDs.

What else does the band have planned for 2005?
We are going to start another Japanese tour in October.

Anything else you would like to tell the readers of virtuosity one?
I want you to experience Ark Storm, please get your copy anyway you can. And if that will take us there to tour in Europe, the rest will follow. I really really hope to see you at Ark Storm concert.

Katsu, many thanks for your time.
My pleasure. Thanks you all.

Official Ark Storm website – http://home.att.ne.jp/kiwi/arkstorm/

KEN’S DOJO – REINCARNATION (REVIEW)

Out Now – Metal Heaven

Ken’s Dojo is a project by Ken Ingwersen. A glorious unknown to me. Apparently he’s worked with several illustrious names over the years. Chesney Hawkes however? You’d get more street cred working with Aqua… In recent years Ken has been part of a production team that allegedly scored major successes in Europe and Asia. He’s also a member of Ken Hensley’s touring band.

For this, his first solo album, Ken has opted for the rock approach. A gentle mix of prog and AOR with obvious pop influences. “Keeping The Flame Alive” gives a firm nod in the proggy direction, while ballad “I Surrender” could very well be a hit if only the mainstream media could pull their heads out of their asses for long enough.

There are several guest musicians implicated, not all of whom will ring a bell.
Glenn Hughes (excellent on “I Surrender”) and Ken Hensley are the biggest names. Ken is an accomplished guitarist who manages to steer clear of the clichés yet come up with interesting lines. Not all songs are equally strong (some, like “Come Alive”, could have done with a bit of careful editing), but there’s precious little potential for embarrassment.

Rating – 80%
Review By Sancho