LARS ERIC MATTSSON – EPICENTRE

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Out now on Lion Music

‘Epicentre’, the23rd album from Lars Eric Mattsson’s career plays out something like a call to arms of all the styles he’s explored over his long career. 18 new tracks is a lot to digest but Lars’ had made the task a little easier thanks to streamlining his compositions over previous epic length excursions.   Another notable change is Mattsson handling all lead vocals himself, his vocal style whilst not amongst the best you will hear is acceptable enough and it does help stamp more personality to the album than having a hired gun.

Musically we have a gamut of styles, from the progressive metal attack of opener “Wait For The Sunrise”, “Freedom Fighters”   , a modern take on blues metal with “A New Devil” (home to a great main riff) and “No Way No Surrender”, almost 60’s psychedelia meets metal for “Land Of Dreams”, “No One Else” has a Queen like pomp to its rock attack and also harks back in some ways to Lars’ more standard rock past, there is also a strong Hendrix-ian influence to many of the tracks to these ears.

Personal favourites are the dark haunting and marauding qualities of “Cinnamon”, a tale of lost love this amalgamation of sitar, dobro guitar and bass in a 5/4 time signature is very different but also rather brilliant. Lars’ vocals also work well here, and the instrumental “Andalucia” which is home to some great melodies.

Overall “Epicentre” is a good album from Lars Eric Mattsson.  Not his best of recent years (Mattsson – Tango get’s that award) but if you like the Mattsson style which really is unlike anything else out there then this is sure to represent value for money.

Rating – 84%

MARCUS JIDELL – PICTURES FROM A TIME TRAVELLER

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Released 16 August 2013 on Lion Music

Marcus Jidell to many will be better known as a current guitarist in Evrgrey and a previous employee of Royal Hunt.  Yet “Pictures From A Time Traveller” is the guitarists debut solo album and sees a work in the instrumental mould yet one that will come as a pleasant surprise to many.

Now before you fear a million notes per second type release prepare to think again.  Granted whilst Marcus can melt frets with the best out there, he also is a masterful composer and so this album works more as a collection of “songs” as opposed to mundane musical backings servicing as a backdrop for even more tasteless shredding.

Fans of Evergrey will appreciate the dark undertones to the music and the album in many ways is a conceptual work in so much as the music delivers rich imagery to the listener and takes you on your own journey.

Opener ‘Artica’ offers up different strands of light and shade with Jidell’s impassioned guitar work working its way through different moods over an inventive musical back from drummer Andreas Johansson and Evergrey/ Therion/Mind’s Eye bassist Johan Niemann and even Marcus’ own father on cello!  Other musicians featured on the album include Evergrey drummer Hannes Van Dahl on 2 tracks and former Yngwie Malmsteen bassist, Svante Henryson on Cello.

“Pictures From A Time Traveller” boasts a strong textural backdrop of keyboard and piano which help create more depth throughout the album.

“Huldra (Ruler Of The Forest)” is built around a jaunty almost folk like melody whilst “Tesla World System” is a 70’s prog influenced meets gothic metal type affair with a organ solo from Royal Hunt’s mastermind Andre’ Andersen as well.

“Rei-Zan” is built around an emotional melodic theme which allows Marcus the chance to really show what he can do with soulful string bends and note choice.

The six minute “El-Amarna (Ruins of Akhetaton)” has, as its title suggest, an almost Egyptian theme to the melody and the track is a definite highlight building as it goes along, and there is some truly fine fretwork here.

“Space Dog” fuses metal riffs and even more quality leads with a Pink Floyd type ambient backdrop before the album closes with the delicate “Wedding Song”.

With a running time of just under 34 minutes for the 7 songs on “Pictures From A Time Traveller” this album certainly won’t outstay its welcome, indeed you will find yourself longing for more.  This is also an album that I can see staying with the listener for a long time, there is a lot of discover contained within, yet also enough from the first listen to get you interested in the first place.

Marcus Jidell has delivered a first class album with “Pictures From A Time Traveller” sporting excellent song craft, superb performances from all involved and a very strong production to boot.  Budding instrumental guitarists of the world grab this when released (digital only) on 16 August and give yourself a master class in how good the genre can be.

Rating – 95%

ANTON JOHANSSON – GALAHAD SUITE

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Out now on Lion Music

Described as “Epic storytelling with an all-star cast make Anton Johansson’s Galahad Suite one of the best concept albums you will hear in 2013” is rather a bold claim by label by Lion Music and you’d be right for being sceptical with such fanfare, for starters I imagine few have heard of Anton Johansson who played with Mister Kite a few years back, but delve deeper and you’ll discover the fanfare might not be so wide of the mark after all.

With a sound that runs across progressive rock/metal, melodic and hard rock grounds with equal measure, “Galahad Suite” is the result of an idea that has been in the head of former Mister Kite member Anton Johansson for almost 30 years and features an array of talented musicians including Linus Abrahamson (guitar and bass), Carl Lindquist (vocals), Mats Bergentz (Drums), Sebastian Berglund (Keyboards), Anna Forsvall Lundmark (Cello) and backing vocal by Evelina Andersson, Ellen Abrahamson and Mikael Cederhag.  Is this the all-star cast mentioned previously? Well no, aside from Lindquist most names are new to me, but then we get onto the guest list.

Ready?

How about guitarists Mattias IA Eklundh (Freak Kitchen, Freak Guitar), Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Allen/Lande, Starbreaker), Jonas Hansson (Silver Mountain), Dennis Post (Star*Rats) and Magnus Kristensson (Mister Kite, Planet); along with keyboards by Jens Johansson (Stratovarius, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dio) and Lalle Larsson (Karmakanic, Agents of Mercy, Electrocution 250) and additional vocals by Alf Wemmenlind (Mister Kite, Fifty Grand Suicide), not too shabby eh!

But of course names are nothing without a decent end product and boy has Anton conjured up something rather special.  As someone sick to death of overblown pompous epics  (Timo Tolkki’s Avalon anyone?) this is understated, it has very  good songs, a strong story running through and the guest spots are used to enhance the end product, not be the only reason for buying.  Production is excellent, strong, powerful and with a crisp mix.

10 tracks which take us from opener “The Hope” to closer “The Man”, each track represents a step in Sir Galahad’s quest, corny? Maybe, but Wemmenlind and Lindquist deliver the lyrics with so much passion and emotion it’s hard to not get caught up in it.  The other musicians are uniformly excellent whether its on the mid-tempo opener to the up-tempo and melodic delight that is “The Quest” to  the musicality of “The Incident” (Dream Theater fans will love this one) and its breakdown with a superb keyboard solo from Sebastian Berglund.  Each track has something to offer new on each subsequent listen and I can see this album staying in frequent rotation for a long time to come.

Overall, a very pleasant surpise from Lion Music and congratulations to Anton Johansson, the 30 year wait has been worth it.  Check out ASAP (note digital release only).

Rating – 95%

HEADLESS – GROWING APART

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Out now on Lion Music

Headless were a band that were kicking around in the late 1990’s, they disbanded in 2000 but have seen fit to reform under the watchful eye of guitar duo Walter Cianciusi and Dario Parente, making up the core of the band is vocalist Goran Edman, he of some of the finest pipes to have come out of Scandinavia.  Completing the lineup is guest drummer Scott Rockenfield of Queensryche fame for the bands come back “Growing Apart”.

Stylistically Growing Apart sits somewhere between straight metal and hard melodic rock mixed with some progressive elements, all tracks are listenable and accessible from the first spin and to be honest this is a very good collection of songs with good performances from all involved. 

The promo literature states that the music was built around the drum rhythms of Rockenfield, fortunately this doesn’t sound like musicians trying to lay down music to drum rhythms, instead its well written, focused and with good arrangements.  Edman contributes strong vocals and melodies and throws down some interesting vocal harmonies on the likes of “Primetime”, “The Backstabbers Around Us” and the title track. Cianciusi and Parente prove themselves to be more than capable guitarists, who also know the art of restraint when it comes to lead time too.

Overall, a good album worth checking out.

Rating – 83%

EARLY CROSS – PATHFINDER

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Out now on Lion Music

Its not everyday a Japanese band gets picked up by a label outside their native country, yet Lion Music have seen fit to offer Early Cross exposure outside their homeland, and it’s a good find too.

Marketed as proto-prog this is metal with some progressive elements, yet also a more ethereal sound with calm and tranquil moments.  Opener “Ashes & Yarrow” is a good indicator of the cross section of moods heard, yet the band rock hard on “Cry Havoc” which is a delightfully punchy number and one where the impressive guitar work of Hiroaki Kato fuses well with the lead vocals of Natasha Vaichuk, whose delicate voice makes a welcome change from all the Tarja wannabes that plague metal these days.

This is by no-means immediate stuff, but given a chance to soak in has a very charming presence about it, yet one you will need to be in the right mood to listen to from start to finish.  As it stands “pathfinder” is a solid opening statement from Early Cross and suggests a good future ahead.  Nice artwork and strong production too.

Rating – 86%

THE MOOR – YEAR OF THE HUNGER

Out now on Lion Music

Following on from a 5 track EP released at the turn of the year, Italian metal outfit The Moor return for their full blown debut album and quite impressive it is too.

Possessing a sound a little left field for Lion Music this is still progressive metal but with a more organic texture yet with hints of death metal, doom, folk and 70s influences.  At its heaviest it reminds me a little of Opeth (who wrote the track from whom the band take their name) and at its more sedate Porcupine Tree or indeed labelmates Waterclime.  This has an original sound to it though.

Vocalist/guitarist Enrico Longhin delivers a vocal that is quite original (none of your LaBrie style wailings here) whilst the musicianship is first rate yet avoids all out shred, preferring to place emphasis on grooves and textures, once again the word organic comes into play, yet the band can riff with the best of them on the likes of “Liquid Memories”.

Over Year Of The Hunger is a fine mature sounding debut suggesting the band have a bright future ahead, well worth checking out.

Rating – 90%

VENTURIA – DAWN OF A NEW ERA

Released 21 September 2012 on Lion Music

Album number 3 from Venturia, the melodic prog metal outfit from France who have streamlined their line-up and their sound for “Dawn Of A New Era”. Gone are a number of the progressive elements heard on their debut “The New Kingdom” to be replaced by a more compact commercial punch. Is this a bad thing? Depends on your outlook but the bands key ingredients are all present and correct – big melodies, punchy riffs, tight arrangements and a glistening production.

If you like your metal on the commercial side (think a less miserable Within Temptation fused with the guitars of Nightwish) then this will be an album you should check out.  The dual male/female vocals of Charly Sahona and Lydie Lazulli work well and manage to avoid most rock clichés, Sahona also shines as ever on guitar whilst bassist Thomas James Potrel and new drummer Frederic Marchal form a formidable rhythmic unit.

At only 8 tracks long and with a running length of 40 minutes the album cannot be accused of outstaying its welcome and delivers 8 punchy tracks with a high level of quality in all.

Highlights come pretty much throughout, but in particular  the opener “Devil In Disguise”, the commerciality of “New Dawn Rising” and “What If I” (check out the video for this one) and the formidable “What We’re Here For” where all the bands elements combine nicely in this driving fast paced track. The modern power balladry of “A Spiritual Path” works nicely before the most progressive styled number on offer “Land Of Dreams” sees the album out nicely.

So in summary “Dawn Of A New Era” sees Venturia make the most concise album of their career, but also one that sounds more at ease with itself with a trademark sound definitely now being heard.  This is intelligent commercially minded metal that is easy to get into and very fresh sounding. What’s not to like eh?

Rating – 93%

DANIELE LIVERANI – ELEVEN MYSTERIES

Released 20 July 2012 on Lion Music

Better known as the keyboard wizard behind Twinspirits, Genius Rock Opera, Cosmics, Khymera etc, Daniele Liverani has turned his attentions to his first love – the guitar – for his first solo instrumental offering for Lion Music entitled “Eleven Mysteries”.

Anyone that is familiar with Liverani’s other bands know he is a strong songwriter well able to pen interesting vocal compositions with deft touches, fortunately this has translated to his guitar album which is an accessible collection home to rich melodies over strong songs.   This only enables Liverani’s guitar technique, featuring all the tricks and skills you’d expect from a student of 80’s and 90’s guitars, to pack the expected punch from an offering from Lion Music.

Although one might expect Liverani to use his multi musical skills to perform all instruments, he has used the album as an opportunity to bring new names to fold, with the album welcoming drummer Paco Barilla’, bassist Tony Dickinson and keyboardist Marco Zago to the scene.  All are strong players in their own right with drummer Paco Barilla being a particularly noteworthy find.

Onto the tracks and we get a multi-faceted album from the Jason Becker like uber shred of  “Mysterious Impulse”, progressive overtones in “Inspiration”, metallic riffery in “Nerve Force” and the delicate ballad “Supreme Gladness” (a highlight to these ears). The obligatory Vai/Satch like track often found on guitar albums is well catered for with “All Is Good” whilst “Giving” injects a sprightly new world Steve Morse like vibe with nice keyboard solos from Marco Zago,    “Humiliation” and “Freedom” are focused around more tight riffs but lack a little in character, something which cant be thrown at final track “Eternal” which covers numerous styles and is a good closer.

Daniele Liverani won’t win awards for breaking new ground in guitar instrumentals with “Eleven Mysteries”, but what we do get is a well played, well produced and more importantly well written album, home to fine performances within enjoyable songs where the focus is on just that – the song.  Liverani’s impressive guitar work is the icing on this enjoyable cake.  One to check out.

Rating – 84%

-xXeDlEvaZo

AN INTERVIEW WITH DOUGLAS DOCKER OF DOCKER’S GUILD

Having come up with a debut of supreme class, DOCKER’S GUILD mastermind Douglas Docker took time out from a busy schedule to answer questions on the creation of “The Mystic Technocracy”, his musical background and future endeavors.

Hi Douglas, thanks for agreeing to this interview, how are you doing today?

Very well! Thanks for having me here J

The debut album from Docker’s Guild has just been released by Lion Music. Getting a great review from us at V1 how has the album been doing elsewhere?

Yes, your review was one of the best and also one of the first reviews to arrive. Thanks for that! Most reviews since then have been of the same standard, the response has been overwhelming, which is a little humbling! I am very happy and very proud of how things are going.

Let’s go back to the start of your musical career, tell us about your musical upbringing and how your journey has led to the creation and formation of Docker’s Guild?

That is very long story, so I’ll try to keep it short. I started when I was 7, first as a classical pianist then violinist, until I graduated in classical piano in the ‘80s. In the meantime I discovered rock and lived the golden age of those amazing days. I eventually found myself in Hollywood where I joined Biloxi, an AOR band that had lots of success in the early ‘90s. Later I returned to school and became a researcher in ethnomusicology with a specialization in Thai ritual music and demon worship by Thai musicians. It’s a very metal thing to get involved with!

Docker’s Guild was born in 1990-1991 when I wrote most of the songs for Season 1. I kept writing and developing the story until it expanded into a 5 album project. It never came out because I never found the right partners, the general reaction in those days was rather scornful, and the musical environment very hostile to this kind of stuff. So I waited. Four years ago I finally decided the technology and the musical environment had become ripe to bring this project to its full conclusion.

“The Mystic Technocracy” is quite a body of work, a lot of intricate elements; lush arrangements and a big sound yet still very accessible with it.  How did the vision for the album come about?

Musically, I wrote the music I’d like to hear out there and rarely find. My main influences cover three directions: AOR (Journey, Asia), prog (Yes, ELP, early Dream Theatre, Threshold), and some more eclectic flavours (David Bowie, Duran Duran, JM Jarre and The Rockets). The music is complex, much more than it sounds, but it’s packaged into an AOR wrapping, so those that just want to enjoy great melodies don’t have to dig too deep. But for those that like aural challenges, there is a lot of intellectual musical playing under the vocals. Odd meters, atonal sections, non-triadic harmonies. A lot of thought was put into all this.

Can you give our readers a basic premise of the concept of the album?

The main concept is the result of a simple observation that has been hounding me since I was 20. Why have people been murdering each other for 4000 years in the name a God no one has ever seen and for three religions that are supposed to be founded on love and compassion. Something is just not right. I plugged this premise into a science fiction story and the rest developed from there.

This is season 1 of a 5 part story correct?

Yep, with a few surprises along the way 😉

Are the future season’s written or just ideas in your head at this point?

Musically, Season 2 is about 70% written, season 4 and 5 about 20%. Season 3 is going to be very obscure and experimental, it is planned but not written yet. Regarding the story, I know the beginning, the middle and the end in great detail, some parts still need to be fleshed out, but I am very clear about how and where I want to bring this.

The assembled cast of musicians is highly impressive, yet unlike a lot of albums which have a lot of guest musicians it seems you had a clear vision of what you wanted from each artist.  It all works quite fluidly, how did you go about dividing up the parts and deciding on who would suit what?

Thank you, it’s been a real honour to have these great musicians and singers on board. Well, first of all I like to give myself rules, little challenges and see where they take me. The first rule was that the singers all had to be AOR stars, I wanted to see what they could do with prog. That gave a highly melodic approach to the whole thing. Most of the musicians were chosen in a similar way. I also let each singer choose on which song they wanted to sing, that helped in making each voice fit the part.

Give our readers an overview of the other musicians involved and also perhaps a little of what you felt they uniquely gave the album?

I was able to convince most of the artists just through the strength of the preproduction demos. I didn’t know any of them basically. The exceptions being Tony Franklin, with whom I had worked in LA in the ‘90s, Magnus Jacobson who is great friend of mine and who introduced me to Goran Edman. The rest was hard work and a lot of typing!

I am very happy with all their performances; they contributed well beyond the call of duty. The rhythm section is thundering, Guthrie’s guitar is just unbelievable, and the singers perfect. They brought this strange mixture of metal, prog rock, AOR and intelligent pop that makes the album unique.

Was it a daunting prospect pulling in all these different performances?

Yes! I was terrified at first. The worst part of the project was opening and listening to files, I was so scared I wouldn’t like anything I heard that I often waited two days before I had the courage to listen. That said, things went incredibly smoothly, there were no technical problems and the parts were recorded rather quickly. Gregg Bissonette for example recorded his 8 songs in one single day!

Did you give the artists a blueprint of what you wanted or where they allowed to throw in a little of their own ideas?

Every single part was carefully mapped in the preproduction demos and I had charts for each instrument, but I left them some freedom, and they often added their own ideas and styles to the mix.

There’s some epic numbers on the album i.e. Darwin’s Tears, The Divine Comedy and The Secret Of DNA trilogy suite, is it easier to write a more complex number than a shorter one?

The more complex the music, the easier it is to write. Intellectual games and large scale structures are just a matter of sitting there like an architect and draw at the table. It is immensely more difficult to write e 3 minute timeless masterpiece with 3 chords. That is the real challenge, because it comes from instinct, which is much more powerful than logic.

What led to the cover of David Bowie’s “Loving The Alien”? It fits the album perfectly.

Yes it turned out real nice, I am very proud of that one. Well, I’ve loved that song since 1984, and the lyrics inspired a great deal of my own story, so I thought it was the perfect choice. That is another little rule I made: each season will have two covers, but they have to be chosen to fit the story. I didn’t write the story around the covers, it’s the other way around. It’s quite a challenge, but that’s how I like to have fun.

How did the actual recording take place your end? Do you have a home studio? Or did you do demos at home then record the proper tracks in a studio elsewhere?

Yes I have a very simple keyboard oriented preproduction studio called The Planet of Freedom Studio. All demos were recorded here, as well as final keyboard tracks, acoustic grand piano, clarinets, saxes, my vocals and all spoken voices. The special guests recorded in their own studios around the world. I then assembled everything here, but the final mix was done in England by the magic of Simon Hanahrt of Marillion and Asia fame.

Was the album recorded in running order?

Not at all. First I did all the demos, and kept all my vocals and keyboards. Then we recorded all lead vocals over the demos. The last thing were drums, bass and guitars.

Did any real nightmares take place during the albums creation?

Yes, I got screwed by a graphic artist and lost $6000… I’d rather not talk about it too much though. Thank God Carl-André Beckston saved the day with some spectacular work.

I believe a mini film for “Darwin’s Tears” is in production, when is the end product likely to be relased?

We just shot the video this weekend, and it looks awesome. It is 9 min long, and will be in a 1920s German Expressionist style, black and white and very, very creepy. It should be ready this fall if all goes well!

What other plans do you have in the pipeline for this album?

Promotion, merchandising, maybe an album release party and showcase still to be organized with some of the special guests. Then it’s on the second album which… will not be Season 2. You’ll have to wait a bit to understand this one! But it all ties up to the story.

Ok, name your top 5 favourite artists and your favourite albums…. And why?

David Bowie – any album (but let’s pick Let’s Dance). My mentor in all things, there is no one above him

The Rockets – Galactica. Obscure space rock French band that sold millions in Italy. The masters of sci fi shows and space rock.

ELP – Brain Salad Surgery. You can’t do more than that with keys no matter how hard anyone’s tried.

Yes – 90125. A production and songwriting masterpiece

Journey – Raised on Radio. Wow!

If you could take only 3 songs to a desert island what would they be?

Duran Duran – Come Undone

David Bowie – When the Wind Blows

Yes – Leave It

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Thanks for the support! I hope you’ll like the album, it was a real labour of love 🙂

Many thanks for your time. 

Thanks you!

BOOK OF REFLECTIONS – RELENTLESS FIGHTER

Out now on Lion Music

Third strike from Book of Reflections, the on/off project of the ever busy guitarist Lars Eric Mattsson.

Relentless Fighter sees Mattsson joined by vocalists Carsten Schulz (Evidence One) and Markku Kuikka (Status Minor), both strong voices and a nice foil to Mattsson’s technical guitar style.

With a more straightforward sound than heard before under the BOR banner, the album is more on a par with the self titled debut offering in some much as its more about neo-classical tinted metal and less prog and weird stuff as heard on the second album.

Delving deeper there’s some strong tracks here like ‘Angel Shed A Tear’, ‘Bleeding Dry’, ‘Rise Up’ all kicked off in fine form by opener ‘Until The Day’ which blazes along in a glorious fashion not too dissimilar to Europe’s ‘Scream Of Anger’.

Relentless Fighter is certainly the most accessible of recent new releases by Mattsson, yet also perhaps his most pissed off for there is an angry slant to many of the rhythm’s and solos where you can almost see the steam coming off the fretboard, nice indeed.

Downsides? The mix isn’t the strongest with vocals sometimes getting a little lost in the mix and the drums do sound overly digital too (toms and crash/splash cymbals), but fortunately it doesn’t detract too much from the music on offer.  That said it would be great to hear Mattsson team up someone like Mike Terrana and get a more savvy mix.

Overall though it’s a strong third effort from Book Of Reflections if not entirely stylistically inline with what’s been before.  That said this ranks as my favourite of the three so far. Great artwork by Carl-Andre Beckston once again as well.

Rating– 85%