I have quite a few Unicorn Digital albums in my review inbox and rather than deal with them in individual reviews I’m going to cover them all in this round up.
Qwaarn – Aberrations
Qwaarn are a progressive band whose membership is fluid with various people drifting away and other being added for this, their second album. They state that the Genesis style of first album had mutated into a 60s and 70s pop style (Beatles, Bowie, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Tears for Fears etc) i.e. mutated from progressive to pop-gessive.
None of the above strikes much of a chord with me and I’m reminded of the “In A Cage” album that reviewed in 2005. Whilst not particularly to my taste the music is executed reasonably well, but the album is let down by the vocals. Whilst dramatic/expressive vocals can sometimes work on progressive tracks, a whole of album’s worth is too much for me.
Hamadryad – Live in France 2006
Hamadryad display their wares on a live album. The album collects material from their previous two albums. In common with my comments on their last album, the heavier material makes the best impression on me. Elsewhere the mild mannered prog fails to get much of a reactions either positive or negative from me.
Spaced Out – Live at the Cresendo Festival
Spaced Out have been one of Unicorn’s more successful acts and I have reviewed them before. Spaced Out have amazed me with their technical dexterity on their studio albums and this proves that the band can deliver in a live setting. Another factor in common with their studio albums is the fact that whilst being amazed me with the playing, I’m always left wondering if I have been entertained as well. Impressive, but undigestible except in small doses.
Dimension X – Implications of a Genetic Defence
Dimension X’s second outing for Unicorn is a concept album about the dangers of messing with genetic research. The album is a mixture of proper tracks and link soundbites such as TV news excerpts. The atmosphere of the album is dark and oppressive, with the music once again being complex and intense. As with the debut the band remind me of Dream Theater with the guy from Depeche Mode singing. Worthy subject matter, but musically these guys fall into the category of being yet another band overshadowed by Dream Theater.
Capharnaum – Le soleil est une bombe atomique
This is the first album by the Canadian 4-piece. They describe their music as ” slightly demented heavy music with a touch of prog and a lot of rhythm”. It is an ecletic mix featuring a concoction of bands such as Rush, King Crimson, Dream Theater and even Al Di Meola. This type of music takes multiple listens to really get into, but despite having it for quite some time, even with the impressive musicianship, I don’t ‘get it’.
Karfagen – The Space Between Us
Karfagen are an Ukrainian band who have previously released an album called Continuum which I reviewed in 2006. The album is once again instrumental, although some tracks do have some vocal elements blended in which are best described as non language specific harmonies.
The band again plays a style of music that mixes elements of folk, with jazz fusion and keyboard led prog. Also just like the first album, I’m tempted to call the music “pleasant”, but somehow I don’t think that it does the album justice. However, the vocal parts do evoke an ‘easy listening’ vibe.
The band’s sound is similar to the first album with bands like Camel and Eloy useful reference points, but this time it seems more original and less derivative. “Temple of Light” really bugged me for a while until I finally worked out that the name of the band I was reminded of – The Enid.
Second album maybe I’m harder to impress as I seem to remember having a more positive reaction to the first album. This is a decent, relaxing, well executed album, but needs an injection of something to raise the excitement levels when listening.
Junk Farm – Ugly Little Thing
These bunch of loonies from Germany describe themselves as the “Fusion trio from hell” – combining jazz and funk with metal riffs. My expectations for this weren’t that high.
I was expecting an instrumental album, but this actually has pretty decent vocals. I was also surprised by the music, it isn’t the type of jazz fusion widdle-fest that I was expecting. I think the element that saves the day is the fact that the funk is pretty evident on most tracks. Think Zappa meets Hughes Thrall.The organ also adds a hint of Purple to the mix. The album is a little schizophrenic at times as all these elements rumble around in the melting pot, but the final concoction is more than acceptable.
Mystery – Beneath the Veil of Winter’s Face
I have reviewed Mystery before at Mood Swings, but it was only whilst doing research for this review that I realised that Unicorn Records was originally formed by Michel St-Pere to promote the music of his own band, Mystery. In fact, the success of the record label has meant that the release of this album was delayed quite a while.
I have to admit that the first couple of times I listened to this, it just washed over me. It wasn’t until I was listening to it with a bunch of other MP3s that I found myself starting to wonder who was playing. Since then it has grown in favor. Of course, it helps that this sort of mixture of prog, pomp and AOR always interests me. I guess when all is said and done, I’m an AOR fan and this type of music which stretches the bounds of that genre is a great way for me to add variety to my music listening, yet maintain all the core elements that I love.
The Gourishankar – 2nd Hands
Russian’s, The Gourshankar, seem to have put everything but the kitchen sink into opening track “Moon 7″. However, as the album continues I detect that the foundation of their sound is based upon a mixture of Kansas and Dream Theater playing jazz fusion & prog. When I first started listening to this album I had been getting into ambient/chillout electronic music courtesey of Pandora (sadly now legally limited to the USA) and it therefore seems a bit of a coincidence that The Gourishankar incorporate elements of this on tracks like “Endless Drama”, “The Inexpressive Chagrin” and “….End”. These twists and turns create an interesting album that yields more with each listen.
Unitopia – More Than A Dream
Unitopia are a band from Australia, which seems kind of a strange place for a progressive band to appear from. But I guess why not. It is just that I think of AC/DC or even Kylie when someone mentions Aussie music.
No mindless metal or pop on display here. Instead we are served up an impressive platter of pomp meets prog. Saga and The Alan Parsons Project are the couple names I noted down the most often when listening to the tracks, especially tracks like opener “Common Goal”, “Ride” and the longest track “Justify”. “Justify” has a jazzy mid-section which, like a couple of other tracks which introduce jazz, has the album straying into prog territory rather than pure pomp. “Take Good Care” is initially an orchestral track, before it introduces tribal rhythms. It is an uplifting track with a positive message. The ethnic feel of closer “Still Here” also creates a warm sound that envelops the listener. That orchestral feel reappears mixed with jazz on “Slow Down”. The folk meets light AOR of “Lives Go Round” even has a singalong quality. The closer “Still Here” finishes the album off nicely.
I have to admit that I was rather surprised by this album and regard it a the ‘discovery’ of this batch of Unicorn releases. Overall I liked the blend of progressive with AOR, yielding a very listenable album which frankly didn’t require the sort of ‘earnest’ listening that some of Unicorn’s releases demand to get the best out of them.