SWEATIN' TO THE PROGGIES
Not having much to show for the time spent in San Diego - goodie wise that is, I decided this week to treat myself to a heapin' dose of pre-packaged shoveled shit to amuse myself over the weekend- which loosely translates into forcing myself to seeing a junkload of flicks (If Collateral's Tom Cruise doesn't turn the good guy actor turned bad guy actor fad back in vogue like his predecessor Denzel Washington did earlier in Training Day- I'm going to go fucking ballistic. I'd start campaigning for Cruise's race to the Best Actor Oscar seat beginning RIGHT NOW if I were you.), going to the comic book shop and try to catch up to that old mainstrean super hero scene, and buying a new pair of prog albums from my all-time favorite record label: Insideout Music . I used to buy a lot of obscure albums by relatively unheard of bands whose fanbase fester mostly in European countries either from online mail order enterprises such as Dave Mulloy's pendragonusa merchandising
or festivals that cater to this ever ebbing music genre. Through mail orders and shows I was reunited to the territories that were once reigned by the likes of Yes, Genesis, Marillion, IQ, & King Crimson - now expanded upon and explored by a new generation of trendsetters passing the mantle; such as Spock's Beard, Arena, Magellan, and The Flower Kings.
A couple of weeks back while I was away at Comic Con International- The Flower Kings managed to release a new album, as they're usually prone to do every year without fail. I have that album with me now- but I'm not going to talk about it. I'll try get to it on Thursday.
I remember chatting with Dave one day about what was lurking in his inventory repertoire that I hadn't heard. Dave made two recommendations to me: one was a swedish act called appropriately enough; A.C.T. : a sort of amalgamation between old style Queen (harking back to the a Night at the Opera or Day of the Races era ) and Canada's Saga. I was immediately sold on the uniqueness of that premise and neglected the other which Dave was trying to sell me about the idea of Star One, a cross pollination of Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, and Deep Purple. Already feeling I've been down that aural road before, I declined and bought some other stuff instead. Star One is another project or group run by Lucassen -and by Dave's description, I wasn't in any real hurry to get it.
Fast forward a couple of years. I had now expanded my listening horizons to include a local San Fernanado Valley outfit called the Rocket Scientists on my spin rack. I've also been talking to Arena keyboardist, Clive Nolan online about helping him get some movie scoring through my studio connection and through one of his Verglas Records newsletters I've happened to stumble upon Clive's involvement with Luccassen through another band he did a few synth solos on called Ayreon. Ayreon is supposedly pronounced AY (medieval influence AYLESBURY) and ON (futuristic influence i.e; electron, proton, nuetron, or whatever the fuck) and the reason the word was made up was because a singer who Arjen was working with in the studio kept mispronouncing his first name and that gave genesis to the idea that his name would sound more cool as a band name- but rather than go the Van Halen route- Arjen decided to make up a variation on his name. Sounded interesting enough- but I still wasn't completely sold yet.
So when time came this weekend to seek out the new Flower Kings album on a lurch due to the low distribution of Insideout Music products being sold in Tower Records (some titles come in, some don't) - I was in luck that it did come in, but I wasn't really satisified if I just walked out of Tower with just one new album- I needed something else to go along with it - plus to serve as a excuse to get blitzed on some Guinness that evening. Sort of a warm up exercise, if you can relate. I made a conscious decision to check out the roster of other Insideout titles and what I could find was mostly all heavy metal related. Some of it I can get into and some of it just doesn't do anything for me if it sounds hackneyed from the likes of Dream Theater, Metallica , or Queensryche- so when I stumbled on Ayreon's Special edition of the Universal Migrator - I approached it with loaded trepidation - Do I really need another hard rocking thrashing disc that's only going to serve in pissing off my neighbors and roommates when I begin blasting past it midnight? I looked down on the cover- it sort of reminded of a Heavy Metal or a Les Humanoides cover painting; plus seeing that it was a double CD for the price of what goes for a single- it instantaneously telepathically linked with my wallet over to the cash register.
Or to further promulgate: Most fucking definitely- YES!!
Once I loaded disc one I found out that the material was written and played out to be as a concept album. I like concept albums because a concept album is essentially a prog rock enthusiast's version of a broadway musical come to life (which incidentally as fate would have it, it has revitalized the Who's Tommy to intermitently live on in infamy as a stage show although some would be pressed to argue that Who were actually considered to be progressive rock in the first place as much as the Beatles were when Beatlemania broke box office records- but tread not stage lovers: seeds are currently being planted by Dave Gilmour to set in motion to turn Pink Floyd's The Wall into a big grossing Tony contender- although Roger Waters had probably beaten him to the punch when he went out performing the entire show more than a decade ago in front of the Berlin Wall with a few celebrity guest stars in tow.) complete with far out plots and wigged out characters to sing the lyrics and act out the roles. Genesis tried this approach with the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Marillion had Misplaced Childhood. David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust and recently IQ tried it on for size with Subterranea along with Arena's remarkable The Visitor.
Aryeon's Univeral Migrator is pure and simple, a science fiction novel put to music as it takes place on a dying colony on Mars. The last of the colonists are forced with the calamity of losing what is left of their food and air supply and the only one who can save the day has stumbled upon a ancient recreation machine of sorts (Chariot of the Gods, anyone?) and is cryogenically plugged in to embark on a journey to relive his previous lives several times over that extend all the way back to the beginnings of time itself. The first act, The Dream Sequencer that opens disc one is reminiscent of revisited space rock stylings, most notably in Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here, but here it takes a slightly delicate turn when the track of My House On Mars comes bursting through that strongly evokes haunting memories of now deceased Camel's keyboardist, Pete Burdens' solo effort, Seen One Earth that it nearly brings a tear to my eye - if not for vocalist, Johan Edlund trying to pull off his slightly uneasy Leonard Cohen impersonation. The Floyd influence is further impacted on another track called the Shooting Company of Captain Frans B Cocq that you would think that guest singer, Mouse(?) was holding a seance with the spirit of Syd Barrett. Some of the songs on this side would even appease the most ficker of comic book creators- Heidi MacDonald could sit back and listen to the following track 'Dragon on the Sea' and exclaim - 'Hey that was a song about pirates!'. The following track, Temple of the Cat would be of some interest to Neil Gaiman , since it deals with the traverses of one soul entwined within Egyptian gods and mythology - which is surely, without a doubt, Sandman territory.
The first disc concludes with Spock's Beard's Neal Morse contributing vocals and lyrics to the Beatles ode to IKEA neanderthal living with The First Man on Earth.
The second act - Flight of the Migrator is mostly heavy metal based, much louder and punchier (both discs were first released back in 2000 as seperate discs) and thereby employs a lot of fast crunching guitars, a swarm pounding rhythm of drums and basses amidst a swirl of triggered appeggiated keyboards and sequencers slamed against a dexterous array of specially percisioned synthesizer solos (my all time favorite kind of musical expression). This selection, although hard and deafening stills manages to keep one engrossed in the storyline that extends through one's soul across the eons of what lies waiting beyond the dawn of time to the birth of black holes and other cosmic anomalies through catchy melodies and fine crafted musicianship. Even Iron Maiden's lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson gets to chip in halfway through this side.
My hat's off to Lucassen for eclectically keeping a firm hand on not allowing things to spiral too out of control with the various singers and diversity of guitar and keyboard players that alternate off and on with each track. I was suprised to discover that Rocket Scientists' Erik Norlander contributed to most of the keyboard work on this project in conjuction with Luccassen. Listening to this effort certainly makes me want to seek out the newest effort released on the Insideout Music label called the Human Equation .
Listening to this almost makes me want to take the old synth warhorses out of the mothballs. Maybe get back in the game of tweaking out on the ivories again.
I coulda been a contender.