Karibow – Holophinium

holophiniumOnce upon a time, in Germany, Oliver Rüsing formed a one person musical project and called in Karibow. Over time, the project became his full time occupation, recording material with a total worth of 17 albums. As a multi-instrumentalist (but originally a drummer), he composed, played and recorded everything himself, with an occasional guest musician showing up here and there.

As I wrote last year in my review for the album Addicted, winning two prizes in Germany and getting the encouragement of his wife, he set up a live band for Karibow. As I witnessed their very first gig late last year, at the Blue Notez Club in Dortmund, only about 35 people, mostly invited guests were present. On a recent German tour with UK companions Saga, following the 2016 album release Holophinium, these 35 guests were succeeded with as much as 1200 paying visitors during a Munich gig. An overjoyed Oliver told me that they were even singing along to the previously released ‘single’ Victim of Light. [acfw id=2]

So what happened here? Easy: Oliver Rüsing composed 97 minutes of solid rock music, released on a double CD set. Music that moves him at big step forward from the AOR oriented Addicted, toward a more progressive rock approach. The AOR side of the music is still present on Holphinium, but the more complex and progressive line of F8 Al Ba6 and the emotional 9/16 continued on this this album. The overall sound is perhaps best described as a mix of IQ, Saga, Pendragon with a dash of Marillion. Here and there I even spotted a pinch of Iron Maiden to add even more spice.

Holophinium consists of music that contains many layers, and each listen brings something new to the ear. One time it’s the keyboard, the next a bass run or a drum pattern – and there are many of the latter! Due to this, the tracks are varied, yet similar enough to make it possible to recgonise it is all Karibow. The title track sets the stage for the rest of the album when it comes to that: synth and keyboard driven vocal parts, almost symphonic, are interleaved with heavier, metal influenced instrumentals and changing drum patterns. My favourite track of the album E.G.O. brings even more of that. Almost a prog rock epic, lyrically dealing with the cause and downside of egocentricity, and the need to reach out and love others than yourself as well. Oliver Rüsing brought in two external vocalists on this album (Michael Sadler on Rivers and Karsten Stiers on Orbital Spirits), but using his own low, 80s influenced voice on this one was the best choice.

Next to these I was most happy with the have-the-audience-sing-along-but-not-a-pop-rock-track Victims of Light, the beautiful River, and Quantum Leap, which has a hypnotic drum pattern and great keyboard work by Sean Timms of Unitopia and Southern Empire.

All of these, and more, are on the more than enjoyable first CD of the set, called Fragments. The second CD contains what is advertised as a single, 36 minute track, consisting of 7 parts: Letter from the White Room. The lyrics (or part of them) form a letter, written from the perspective of an astronaut in the white room, the room from which they enter a space craft before launch. This 36 minute piece could have been an album in itself, and is even more layered and complicated in structure than the first CD. Moon starts as an almost vocal only introduction, followed by Walk on Water with an Iron Maiden like guitar riff, and then the ‘suite’ builds up in heaviness throughout the 4 parts – with beautiful interplay between all instruments – until it drops back to a slow, question endon Plutionian.

So, this is the perfect album then? No. I’m not going to let Karibow get away with this – if only because even though Oliver has been on it for almost 20 years, Karibow have only just begun. There are small flaws, and I would love to see them do an album as a band, not having everything done by Oliver himself. So, putting on a little bit of pressure here. But apart from a few small things, the only real issue I have with the album is it’s length. I started playing it as two separate CDs, because 97 minutes really is a long time to listen to one album. Given that Letter from the White Room is almost an album by itself, it’s not a big deal though – we got two album for the price of one. Now let’s have Karibow enjoy life on stage, and with a bit of luck we’ll get another album from them in 2017 or 2018. Definitely highly recommended!

Crescent Moon – The Lidless Room

Twenty years ago, I could not have imagined having made as many friends through Facebook and other social media as I did in the past 18 months. By posting album reviews, and 9 months ago adding an internet radio show as well. It put me in contact with people that like the same music, share the same dreams and to some extend have the same fears. Fears that include losing our freedom and privacy to the net, while being (un)consciously aware of the fact that it is us, ourselves, giving up these things by being active on the net. Crescent Moon - The Lidless Room (Album)

Exactly those fears, and Kafka’s book For dem Gesetz (Before the Law) are what inspired four members of a single family into creating an album called The Lidless Room, and release it under the name Crescent Moon. Brother’s Frank and Eric Peters, and Frank’s 15 year old twin sons Bas and Tim managed to come up with a great concept album around this theme. [acfw id=2]

The album tells the story of a man, sitting before a guarded gate, who cannot pass
until the moment he gets rid of his VR glasses and smart phone. His mental road from arriving there until realising that is captured in music that sometimes resembles that of 70’s Pink Floyd (Roger Waters certainly was an influence), but is by no means a copy of that. Especially the vocals on Obsolete Man remind me of Eclipse, from Dark Side of the Moon).
With outstanding tracks like Aphids and Ants (melody written by Bas at age 13), The Lidless Room itself and the closing instrumental Through the Gate, the foursome proves to be more than average musical family.
The music is atmospheric, with the keyboards often carrying the rest of the band through the instrumentals.

To add to their credits, the band has taken a very professional approach to creating this album. They built their own studio at home, played, mixed and produced everything themselves, and have a great eye for detail. Proof of the latter: One part of the story tells about the man sitting in front of the gate remembering playing his first LP. Sure enough, the back cover of the CD nicely divides the 11 tracks over Side 1 and Side 2 in reference to that.

Happy to know these musicians, by their music and their regular attendance to the chat of my radio show. But even without knowing them that well, this album deserves to be qualified as highly recommended. Crescent Moon delivers progressive rock inspired by the classics, without becoming a copy of one of the classic era bands.

Luigi Milanese – Closer to Heaven

Luigi Milanese is an Italian guitarist, who just released a new album Closer to Heaven via Black Widow records in Italy. For this album, we did something I have never done before – I reviewed it track by track while discussing it on Facebook Messenger with Luigi himself.

The opening track, Never I Did, is a very melodic, almost acoustic track, with vocals by Claudia Sanguineti. Accompanied by acoustic and electric guitar, piano (Luca Lamari) and cello (Marila Zingarelli), she sings in an enchanting, almost melancholic voice. As I wrote during our chat session ‘this could play all evening – lights low, bottle of wine, brilliant.closertoheaven

This is followed by Riot House, for which Luigi told me to ‘Turn up the volume!’. A blues rock track, which reminds somewhat of ZZ Top‘s ‘Legs‘, played by the power trio of guitar, bass and drums, and fully instrumental. A big contrast to the first track, but no worse for it. The rumbling bass of Bob Callero, the pounding drums of Frederico Lagomarsino and the speedy guitar work of Luigi combine really well.

On All the Thing I Never Said, we’re back to cello, piano and acoustic guitar, this time with Claudio only singing note without lyrics, before leaving the stage for the flute of John Hackett, who starts in a South American fashion but moves on to other things quickly. Andriano Mondini adds a nice lower end with the oboe as well.The dreamy mid section almost lulls the listener into a trance when suddenly electric guitar riffs change the mood, a nice twist into the second half of the song – with great bass work once again. [acfw id=2]

Acoustic guitar in a slightly higher tempo, in a slightly rock ballad like way opens As a Chill in the Golden Night, on which Claudia Sanguineti once again takes care of the vocals. With a slightly bluesy edge to the guitar, this could have been inspired by the acoustic tracks from the end of the 60s (think Janice Joplin transferred to 2016).

Aurora has a similar structure as All the Things I never Said, starting acoustic and ending electric, with a lead role for John Hackett’s flute once again, but it has a different sound to it. The cello has a bigger role on this one than on All the things I never Said, and the transfer to electric is less abrupt – it actually comes in quite nicely, by means of an electric piano (Luca Lamari again) and some long, slighlty distorted long guitar chords. This combination gives the track a nice jazz rock feel. I think I can understand why this is Luigi’s own favourite track on the album.

Acoustic rules is a short track that featurs as a show case for Luigi’s acoustic guitar playing abilities. Starting with a melodic part, it moves on to powerful strumming, accompanied near the end by a little bit of drums (played with bare hands by Frederico Lagomarsino).

Visions from the Well Part I starts with what sounds like the end of a symphony played by an orchestra, followed by applause of an audience, and moving on to acoustic guitar and cello. With an e-bow added to Luigi’s electric guitar this track is quite a surprise after what came before, a haunting mix of acoustic guitar and cello, painting a vision of a dream.

Internal Dynamics is a wonderful fusion track, mixing classical elements with a lead role for John Hackett’s flute and Luigi’s electric and acoustic guitar – exchanging melodies. Each instrument contributes it’s own part here though, with drums and bass being unmissable.

Visions from the Well Part 2 is proof that Luigi Milanese studied music. Cello, guitar, piano and bass all play their own melodies, but it all fits together like magic, pity it only lasts for 95 seconds.

Epilogue, which closes the album, once again features acoustic guitar, accompanied by flute and keys to lay down how Luigi feels about music. Less than one and a half minute long, but a fitting end.

This is an album that is impossible to pigeon hole – it’s not rock, not jazz, not fusion, not psychedelic, but it has elements of all. If you are looking for something that is somewhat unpredictable, without becoming overly experimental – or just a nice piece of music crafted with love, this one is definitel recommended.

Messenger – Threnodies

When Messenger appeared on the musical stage in 2012, they claimed to be influenced mainly by folk rock and progressive psychedelia. I haven’t heard their first album, released in 2014, which seemed to live up to that statement. However, their 2016 release Threnodies does the same, adding what could be best described as metal influences here and there.

The album, entitled Threnodies (payers for the dead), was written and recorded at the end of 2015, and the title and music were partly inspired by the Paris shootings, during the Eagles of Death Metal gig at the Bataclan.


The first track, Calyx is an instant claim to attention. The slow, atmospheric first half changes it’s rhythm a few times almost unnoticeably. It makes the listener at ease, with the soothing combined vocals of Khaled Low and Barnaby Madock, when suddenly a synth and a rolling drum and bass pattern come in, quickly joined by guitar and keyboards to create a musical storm – waking us up to what is yet to come.

On Oracles of War this continues, a track that starts with a dark guitar and then speeds up rapidly in a way that is influenced by Black Sabbath, according to the press release that came with my promo copy, but it could just as easily be influenced by early Deep Purple. The track slows down, back into the psychedelic, early 70s Pink Floyd realm half way, making it into a very enjoyable and varied piece of music. The slow, melodic guitar solo near the end proofs that point perfectly. [acfw id=2]

The band proofs itself further on the rest of the album. Balearic Blue reminds me of Pink Floyd again, but with an early Porcupine Tree flavour added. On Celestial Spheres, the pulsing bass intro makes me expect someone to shout “One of these days…”, which of course doesn’t happen, although it is joined soon by a very Floydian guitar soon. The music on this one goes straight into the psychedelic region again, with the two vocalists working tighter again very nicely. Somehow, the way they cooperate reminds me of IZZ, another great band I discovered only recently and far too late. Halfway, a bit of grinding bass adds darkness underneath the clean guitars introducing a nice twist into a slightly heavier sound.

Nocturne lives up to its name, with a pulsing bass and guitar and slightly haunting vocal harmonies. The guitar solo on this one works really well, giving a slight folky feel without loosing the dark edge of the music.

On Pareidolia, the band takes us to the early 70s hard rock sound again, with the first half alternating between this and a more friendly, almost folky sound. The second half of the track is a more psychedelic sound scape again, almost as an intro to the soft, melodic – almost bluesy Crown of Ashes. It has a slight folk ring to it as well, but is more powerful than the works of Aïnulindalë, whose album I reviewed last month.

This band had not appeared on my radar until the promo of this one landed in my digital inbox, but I’m definitely going to check out their debut album as well after hearing this. Warmly recommended.

Haken – Affinity

The sound of a computer bleeping, in a science fiction way, sounds from my headphones. It is followed by vaguely human noises underneath an industrial soundscape, which floats seamlessly into a bass and guitar riff. A riff that stops abruptly to make room for a synth sound and the high pitched voice of Ross Jennings, a pattern that repeats a couple of times – forming a track called Initiate. The initial sounds, which lasted about a minute and a  half were for Affinity, the opening and title track of Haken’s 2016 release.Press_cover

After hearing Mountain, their 2013 release, early last year, and seeing them live at the Night of the Prog Festival in Germany, I was quite interested in hearing this release. A release that surprised me a bit, because it sounds very different from Mountain. Much less the ‘metal version’ of Gentle Giant (the brilliant Cockroach!), this album has a slightly more ‘electronic’ feel to it, with synths and keyboards that, on 1985, even remind me sometimes of 1980s Rush and Asia – but with a modern twist and a heavy edge to it – and lots of room for quiet, melodic and atmospheric parts.

At the point I heard this, I had a look at the press release that InsideOut records included with the promo material. Indeed, Haken made a conscious choice this time to work with their influences from the 1980s instead of the 1970s. And with good result – the album sounds fresh, different from what they did before, with recognisable parts in it but never a copy of what was done before. That same 1985, which is according to the band influenced by the likes of 90125Toto IV and Three of a Perfect Pair, also contains heavy guitar, bass and drum work as to be expected from what is still labelled a progressive metal act. This track, and the 15 minute epic The Architect alone make the album worth the money. The Architect mixes heavy sections with atmospheric ones, making it into a muscial trip through the 1980s and the 21st century. At one point I as surprised to hear a death metal vocal, which I hadnt’ expected from Ros Jennings. And rightly so, because fo this piece, Haken had invited Leprous vocalist Einar Solberg. [acfw id=2]

Every track besides those mentioned has it’s merits on this album, a mouth watering source of variation and musicianship. The 80s electronics of Lapse, the poppiness of Earthrise, the sustained beat of Red Giant, the whirling of the guitar that comes back later in the synths on The Endless Knot, and the spacy atmosphere of Bound by Gravity.

After being surprised by them on Night of the Prog, was planning on going to see Special Providence end of May at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, and now that I know they are support act for Haken, who are there to promote this new album, that plan will have to become reality. A six piece that may stick with us for a few more years.

It’s been a bit quiet, hasn’t it?

As I promised at the end of last year, this year I would focus on doing around 26 reviews this year – with maybe a few more. I’m still on track with that, but doing one every two weeks is not entirely a feasible option. Not that I need more time, but for some new releases I am asked, and really want to, to do a review that appears around or before the release that. That leads to a different way of planning, which is nearly impossible to fit into a regular review pattern.


So, I switched back to somewhat irrelugar review scheduling, and to saying ‘No, I’m sorry’ to some review requests. For those, I’ll try to put out a monthly summary of albums that I listened to, with a very short mini review for each. No guarantee I wlll be doing it every month yet.

First of those will appear end of this month. On my list of albums at the moment are the following, some of which will (as explained) get a full reviews, while others will end up in the ‘roll up’ posts. All albums will at some point get airplay on ISCK Rock Radio, on my Wednesday edition of The Prog Files/Angelo’s Rock Orphanage.

Headspace – All that you fear is gone

The opening of Headspace‘ new album, Road to Supremacy, and certainly the vocals made me feel like listening to an 80s or  90s AOR album. Maybe one by Survivor or Foreigner or perhaps Don Airey‘s magnificent album K2 – Tales of Triumph and Tragedy. When the music speeds up, that quickly changes – the music moves into solid heavy rock, with sometimes Yes or Rush like bass, and high pitched, wailing keyboards in the background – before going back to a soft piano tune. As solid, and more in vein of a lighter (older) Dream Theater is Your Life Will ChangeHeadspace

The band is capable of doing that, but also of other things – as they show on Polluted Alcohol, a track they described in an interview with iO Pages as having amore ‘Paris Texas’ vibe. Also on Kill You with Kindness, which has a melodic, melancholic midsection, or the somewhat psychedelic The Element does the band show it’s potential for variation.

The musicianship is great, and I love the tightness of Adam Faulkner‘s drums, the growling of Lee Pomeray‘s bass and the vocals of Damian Wilson. I’m not too fond of the wailing keyboards but Adam Wakeman shows he can do other things as well, and Pete Rinaldi is far form your average shredder. [acfw id=2]

This musician ship as well as the variation in music are as evident in the 13 minute track The Science Within Us as in the album throughout, however, I have a hard time spotting something that is really new and original – or something that really catches me and makes me go back again and again. Maybe the album needs more getting used to, maybe it just isn’t there. Overall, it’s a solid album to have, but not as special as it could have been, given the resumes of the band members. Try before you buy, just in case.

Kristoffer Gildenlöw – The Rain

When I interviewed Kristoffer Gildenlöw last year, he told me that his debut album Rust was inspired by a dark period in his life. A period that he needed to come to terms with. His next album, the one I’m listening to for the umpteenth now, would be less dark he expected. To some extend he was right, but The Rain is far from party music. The concept album tells the story of a man fighting his oncoming dementia, giving in only shortly before dying. A theme that is all to common, in a world where we are still dealing with Alzheimer. From that perspective, giving some tracks of the album their first airplay during Rock against Dementia on March 19th of this year was a logical thing to do.therain

After the sounds of rain, the first violin notes of After the Rain Part II (Part I is on the 200 copies limited edition bonus EP) make clear that this album is full of emotion and melancholy. Kristoffer’s voice carries the melancholy, which is joined by Paul Coenradie’s equally emotional guitar to set the stage for the rest of the album.

On Holding On Pt. I  Kristoffers voice is joined by that of violinist Anne Bakker, resulting in a  duet full of questions and despair. The effect of the vocals, and the use of vocals as another instrument becomes even stronger on Seeking The Sun  Pt. I, where a complete choir (Popkoor Zuilen) joins in with the other two voices to create an intricate and touching layering of melodies. This matches perfectly with the piano and guitar melodies in the instrumental The Sun Pt II.  [acfw id=2]

The short piano (Fredrik Hermansson) and male vocal piece Worthy found me staring out the window into the dark of the night, ‘waking up’ to the slightly faster violin (and cello?) of Holding On Pt II. This leads up to the slow See it All, which starts with dark drums and then a piano to accompany Kristoffer’s low voice, again joined by the choir – putting down the emotions of the dementing man wanting to see it all once more. The cello (Maaike Peters) and violin on Peripheral Memory, accompanied by a low guitar riff and almost haunting drums (by Gazpacho‘s Lars Erik Asp) lead to the soft, slow Breath In, Breath Out. Here, the man gives in, knowing the end is near. The piano and Kristoffer’s voice give me shivers, reminding me of family members who died, no longrer aware of who they themselves and those around them were.

With The Evening, which starts small and ends big, and the acoustic It was me, the album works it’s way into the haunting Drizzle. This song starts with a very low voice (Norman Ebecilio) and the sound of chains and cart wheels and develops into something that is not a blues but certainly has the feel of one. A very dark one that ends in the sound of rain.

The complicated melody of the instrumental second half of She is one of the highlights of the album for me – with a lead role for the alt violin. After this, three short tracks All for You, and The Funeral Pt I and II remain, reflecting the sad ending to a sad story – with the piano and the sound of rain and distant church bells ending the album.

An intricate composition, where lyrics, vocals melodies and instruments work together as an orchestra to convey a story. Production of the album is crystal clear, making all the  layers of the music shine through. Highly recommended, but requires attentive listening.

This review is dedicated to my uncle Josef (Sjef) Hulshout, who is going through the final stages of his earthly life – no longer aware of who he has been and how he has lived.

The Tea Club – Grappling

One of the bands for which I reviewed every album, maybe the only one. That’s The Tea ClubNot because they sent me a complimentary review copy of every album, but also because I like their music. It’s not what I play most, but every time I play it, I hear something that catches me. With their 2015 release Grappling that’s no different. grappling

The intro of The Magnet immediately grabs my attention, although I have no idea why exactly. It just works. Maybe it’s the combination of guitar and keyboard melodies, or the vocals of the McGowan brothers, Dan and Patrick, no idea really. With Remember Where You Were (a song which’ title reminds me every time of where I was when I heard David Bowie died earlier this year), that only continues. The emotion in the vocals combined with the organ in the background are ear candy. [acfw id=2]

The darker and gloomier Dr. Abraham contains interesting musical moves, as does The Fox In a Hole, which at first hearing seemed to start with a violin. In earlier reviews of The Tea Club albums, I referred to their nice blend of influences, which never becomes a copy of what other bands do. On The Fox in a Hole, it’s the first time I was under the impression I was listening to an old, unreleased Genesis track, with a little bit of Caravan mixed in. Still, it’s a unique thing, not a copy attempt, and still very welcome in the midst of all the 70s clones of the past few years. The same can be said about The White Book, the closign track of the album. No copies, just influences.

Now I skipped quickly Wasp in a Wig, in order to make it into the closing paragraph of this album review. This track is a bit guitar heavier than the rest and giving a bit more foreground to the bass. It starts slow, almost melancholic in the vocal sound, but moves on to a dual vocal, very varied track. It changes and comes back, without loosing coherence, and is very much my favourite on this album. An album that shows that even after 8 years, the quality and musicianship of The Tea Club is still on the same great level. Highly recommended.

Dream Theater – The Astonishing

Do you know that feeling of magic, that you felt when you first looked into the eyes of the love of your life? The sparkle you saw there and felt in your heart? That’s what I felt when I heard Dream Theater’s  When Dream and Day Unite, way back in 1989. TheAstonishing

That feeling started disappearing after Falling into Infinity, with Metropolis Pt.2. After that, their albums started feeling like showing off (certainly on Petrucci’s end) instead of making music for the fans. With Octavarium, I thought they were on the way back, but they lost me again after that. [acfw id=2]

Now, with all the fuss around The Astonishing, I was hoping the fire had once again rekindled. Listening to the album this week, having ordered it last week only after weeks of doubt, I am once again disappointed. The album is too much, too long, and too uninventive to win me back. I listened, and only found things that have been done before, and probably better, by the likes of e.g. Ayreon. The music may not be bad, but it’s not worthy of the Dream Theater I once knew.
First it was the shredding that turned me off, now they’re trying to create a musical and failing…. A pity really. The genuine energy and enthousiasm of the first four albums are what made Dream Theater for me, and it’s all gone.