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24003The end of the A's

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  • stevesly@aol.com
    Oct 2, 2006
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      61.    ARTI & MESTIERI – TILT – 1974


      I know a lot of people consider this to be one of the all time classic Italian prog releases, but I have to be honest, although I like it, I don't find it to be all that much better than a lot of other Italian prog rock that I have heard.  That being said, it is a decent listen and has stood the test of time quite well.   The music reminds me somewhat of PFM mixed with Le Orme, although the jazz fusion influence is more prevalent with this band.  The band is led by drummer Furio Chirico who is all over the disc with distinctive fills and unique percussion moments.  The guitar, keys and occasional violin and sax work on the album is also very good.  All lyrics are in Italian, so I don't really know the story behind the material, but it appears to be a concept piece.  Overall I like the album, but there are other Italian releases that I enjoy more.  These guys put on a very good show at ProgDay a few years ago.


      62.    ASIA – LIVE IN MOSCOW – 1991


      This live album from the early 80’s captures the band with three original members. Asia was one of the first rock bands to play behind the iron curtain in the wake of the glasnost years.  Steve Howe is replaced on this disc by journeyman Patt Thrall who spent the years prior to this disc with Pat Travers and afterwards with Meatloaf.  Overall this is a pretty good live album.  The performances are all good.  The band mostly sticks to versions of the material that is similar to the studio albums, but do stretch out on occasion.  Geoff downs does a keyboard solo that includes “Video Killed The Radio Star”.  There is a pretty intense instrumental workout during “The Heat Goes On” including a Carl Palmer drum solo.  Pat Thrall has a nice solo guitar moment on the set closer “Open Your Eyes”.  The album contains all the hits plus album tracks from all three of the band’s studio albums up to this time.  They also perform two King Crimson tunes “Starless” and “Book Of Saturday”.  Wetton’s voice is in fine form throughout.  The album closes with a previously unreleased studio track “Kari – Anne” which is fairly unremarkable.  This album presents a nice overview of Asia ’s early years and is worth owning.


      63.    ASIA – SILENT NATION – 2004


      This is the only other Asia album that I own on CD (I have the 1st and 3rd albums on vinyl).  This album would prove to be the final one of the John Payne era before Geoff Downs got back together with the original lineup that is currently touring.  The “Silent Nation” lineup also features former AC / DC drummer Chris Slade.  I have had a love / hate relationship with this band over the years.  I liked 2 out of 3 of the Wetton era studio albums.  I have tried a few of the John Payne led discs over the years, but have never been overly impressed.  When this album came out I kept seeing rave reviews for it, so I decided to give it a shot.  It really is a pretty decent disc.  The songs are all in the now familiar Asia style, pop-ish with prog influences, but the songwriting for the most part is solid and there is some very nice instrumental work here and there as well.  The albums themes are on the dark side with social / political commentary outnumbering the loves songs by about 4 to 1.  In fact I think the last half of this album is really good with songs like “Gone To Far”, “Darkness Day” and “The Prophet” all working really well.  Even the love song “I will be There For You” contains a killer guitar solo.  Other highlights include “Blue Moon Monday” and the title track “Silent Nation”.  Overall I like this album and am glad I gave it a chance.


      64.    AVANT GARDEN – MAELSTROM – 2001


      Avant Garden is a band from California whom I had never heard of prior to discovering them during the ProgDay band selection process.  I believe this is their one and only album, and that they are now defunct.  I don't find this band to be really avant at all.  They often remind me of instrumental Ian Macdonald era King Crimson.  All of the tracks on this one are long with the shortest “Into The Maelstrom” clocking in at almost 8 minutes and the longest “Path Of The Farwinds” going for almost 20.  The band consists of guitar, bass, drums and sax / flute.  There are parts of this album that just smoke with killer guitar and sax interplay.  Everyone plays at top form and is undeniably talented.  This is another one of those albums that I do not pull out very often, but when I do I am reminded of how good it is.  Too bad these guys could not stay together.


      65.    AYREON – THE FINAL EXPERIMENT – 1995


      For those of you not familiar with Ayreon it is mainly the pet project of multi instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen who writes and plays on all of the material.  Lucassen brings in a host of guest artists to perform on each of his Ayreon projects.  The albums tend to be conceptual with science fiction themes.  The Final Experiment was the first Ayreon album.  For me it is not on a level with the later work, but there are some good things to be found here.  The story takes place in the year 2084 when scientists find a way to send messages back in time through “time telepathy” in order to try to save the world.  The messages are received by a blind minstrel named Ayron.  Yea, it is pretty cheesy in spots, and for some people this will be everything that they hate about prog.  Some of the tracks such as “Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy” are almost embarrassing, while other like “The Banishment” are everything I like about this kind of music.  As mentioned I don't think this is as good as the band’s later stuff, but overall I like it.  Big bombastic prog metal.  The majority of the players on the album are unknown to me.




      The cheese factor is turned up even more on this disc, but I love it.  This was the album that first introduced me to Ayreon and remains my favorite.  I first heard it at fellow Prog And Other member Dutchrocker’s house and fell in love with it at first listen.  This is another sprawling “space opera” that incorporates 2 discs and almost 2 hours worth of music.  Along with Lucassen the players on this disc include Clive Nolan (Pendragon, Arena), Ton Scherpenzeel (Kayak), Thijs Van Leer (Focus) and others.  The vocalists on this disc all play separate characters.  Fish (Marillion) plays the Highlander, Damian Wilson (Landmarq, Threshold) plays The Knight, and Peter Daltry (Roger’s brother) is the narrator.  Fish even writes the lyrics for a few of the songs he sings in the style that only Fish can write.  The story concerns 8 characters that are chosen from random moments in time on a quest to the electric castle.  In the end the characters who survive (Fish gets killed off before the end of the first disc) find that the whole thing was only an experiment being conducted by an alien race.  The whole thing is like a science fiction novel put to music.  Sound cheesy?  You bet it’s cheesy, but the music is grand and epic, the vocals outstanding and he overall production extremely well done.  Just about every facet of prog, metal, blues, ballads, and epics are touched upon over the course of these two discs.  Some people will absolutely hate this stuff, but I love this album.


      67.    AYREON – THE DREAM SEQUENCER – 2000


      “The Dream Sequencer” and “Flight Of The Migrator” are two separate albums that were released at the same time.  The stories of the two discs (they are both sci fi concept pieces) intertwine to form a cohesive story line.  The difference is that “Dream Sequencer” was designed as a more melodic and at times even acoustic disc, while “Flight” is pretty much pure prog metal.  It was an interesting concept from Lucassen and for the most part it works.  “Dream” contains another plethora of guests including Clive Nolan, Erik Norlander, Lana Lane , Edward Reekers, Damian Wilson, Mark McCrite and Neal Morse from Spock’s Beard.   The album mostly written by Luccassen with the exception of “Dragon Of The Sea” with lyrics by Norlander, and “The First Man On Earth” with lyrics by Neal Morse.  The overall album is not as strong as “ Electric Castle ”, but at the same time is quite different from previous Ayron releases.  Being more melodic, parts of it sound more like Pink Floyd than the prog metal that Ayreon are known for.  There are some really good tracks on this one.  One of my favorites is “One Small Step” which is taken from a child’s point of view being awakened by his parents to watch the moon landing in 1969.  I can relate to that song.  I still have a very vivid memory of my parents getting my out of bed in the middle of the night and watching Neal Armstrong set foot on the moon on our little black and white TV in 1969.  I was very young, but I can remember it like it was yesterday and this song brings it all back.  I could have written the lyrics.  Neal Morse’s contribution “The First Man On Earth” is also a highlight.  Of course this is another Sci Fi concept album whose story is continued on the next release.


      68.    AYREON – FLIGHT OF THE MIGRATOR – 2000


      Part II of the overall “Universal Migrator” story.  This is the more metallic disc of the pair.  More prog all-stars are involved with this one including members of Symphony X, Fates Warning, Helloween, Stradivarius, Shadow Gallery and Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden.  Luccasen is hanging with pretty heavy company on this one, but once again pulls it all off.   For the most part this album is prog metal all the way with more grandiose bombastic music and lyrics.  Highlights include “Into The Black Hole” which is a must for any fans of Bruce Dickenson.  I think it ranks right up with his best vocal performances with Maiden.  The opening tracks “Chaos” and “Dawn Of A Million Souls” features member of Symphony X and again, if you are fan of that band should be right up your alley.  Overall this is another strong disc from Lucassen and company.


      69.    AYREON – THE HUMAN EQUATION – 2004


      Another sprawling all star concept piece from Lucassen.  The package includes 2 full CD’s of music along with a bonus hour long DVD.  Joining Lucassen’s regular cronies on this one are members of Dream Theater, Opeth, Mostly Autumn, Shadow Gallery, Strapping Young Lad, IQ, Uriah Heep, and Oliver Wakeman.  The vocalists all play separate characters, similar to “Into The Electric Castle ”.   Wow, what a tour de force this one is.  A true rock opera with each vocalist playing a part tells the story of a man in a coma following a car accident.  The songs relive his life while other songs revolve around the happenings of his friends and family while he is in the coma.  At the very end there is a twist as the album appears to be a sequel to the “Universal Migrator” discs.  The music is all over the place prog, metal, folk, ethnic, opera, death metal; you name it, and its here.  James Labrie plays the main character and is in fine voice throughout.  There are some great duets and vocal interplay especially in tracks like “Mystery” with Arjen Lucassen and Heather Findlay sharing lead vox .  Devin Townsend shines on “Loser” and Mikael Akerfeldt uses his trademark growl / clean voice to great effect as well.  As mentioned the album is really long, and probably could have used some trimming, but overall I think this one ranks right up with “ Electric Castle ” as Ayreon’s best.  The DVD is also quite cool with a “making of” section that features most of the people who appear on the album.


      70.    AZIGZA – AZIGZA – 2000


      Azigza first came to my attention through ProgDay. Their music is a mix of prog and middle eastern influences that reminds me a lot of Amarok in places.  They are fronted by a very talented female vocalist named Cyoakha Grace (whom I believe has since left the band).  Some of the tracks such as “Ratzintza” and Eddalla Ya Rashidi” are interpretations of traditional Bulgarian and middle eastern music.  There is also a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Friends”.  The rest of the album is all original material.  One of the cool things about going through all of my CD’s like this is pulling out albums that I have not listened to in a long time.  It is very enjoyable to “rediscover” some of these gems and this album fits that category.  It is a really cool little album and different from just about everything else I have in my collection.  I know they have at least one more album out.  I may have to pick it up.


      Steve Sly

      (NP - Alice Cooper - Love It To Death)

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