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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Phideaux

Doomsday Afternoon

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve enjoyed every Phideaux album thus far, but the truth is, they are going to have a hard time beating this one in the long run. It is a masterpiece that stands along all the progressive rock greats as an equal. In fact, I’d have to put this as one of the top two or three prog releases this year. While the dark tone of much of the music brings this into the world of neo-prog, it truly has more in common with the classic era of the genre than with the modern day. It’s book-ended by two epic pieces and the whole thing flows like one long piece of ever changing music. Three of the “shorter” pieces still top the eight-minute mark. There is not a weak piece on the entire disc. I can’t imagine a prog rock collection that couldn’t be made richer by the addition of this disc. In case that isn’t clear enough – buy this one – now!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Micro Softdeathstar
This starts softly with a ballad-like approach. The vocals come over gently sounding a bit like Genesis, Marillion or perhaps the mellower format of Supertramp. This grows up through an intensification of the musical themes after a time. Then keyboards come over top bringing a new and powerful dimension to the piece. There is a lot of Pink Floyd in this mix, but plenty of other elements are here, too. It turns a bit crunchy later in nice fashion. It drops to pure space around the two minute mark. Gentle vocals come over the top as classical instrumentation also shows up. This rises up to a dramatic arrangement that has an exceptionally tasty texture. The number is continued by building on this theme. As it reaches towards its peak the Pink Floyd elements are more dominant, but that still doesn’t explain everything here. Lush keyboards brush across the surface, bringing some wonderful moods with them. At around the four and a half minute mark this jumps out into a fast paced jam that combines classic prog with Celtic and neo-classical elements in a great display of musical purpose. They drop it back to more sedate modes for a short time, but jump right back up to this faster paced movement to carry on. Another drop to mellow elements gives way to another balladic musical motif for the next vocals. This is built up in an organic and natural way. Classical strings weave melody over the top of the arrangement as they carry forward. This works out into a more powerful reincarnation of itself in a very evocative manner. Then it moves out into a new instrumental segment that’s one part Floydian prog and one part classical wonderment. The next vocals come in over this format. Female vocals carry the day here. This moves out into another progression, this much along the lines of some of Rick Wakeman’s solo material. It gets extremely powerful as more layers are added to the mix, but then it drops back down to a very stripped down version of the ballad structures from earlier in the piece. This, once again, is built up. Piano skirts around in dramatic lines of sound. It turns more classically oriented again on a crescendo. Then they drop it back to piano and vocals to move forward. Other elements are gradually brought in to enhance the experience and this mode carries the cut through. At almost eleven and a half minutes, this epic is the second longest on show here.
The Doctrine Of Eternal Ice (Part One)
Here we get a bouncy, classically oriented piece that calls to mind Queen. As keyboards form waves of sound over this backdrop other elements emerge. They launch out into a killer progressive rock jam that combines both classic prog elements and newer sounds into a motif that at times feels like ELP and at other moments Rick Wakeman. This is a very effective instrumental and a great way to carry the mood on in high fashion. The keyboards really take center seat on this powerful excursion. More bouncy motifs take the track (with a decidedly world bent) until they drop back to just keys. This instrument weaves new and beautiful waves of melody to eventually end the number.
Candybrain
Gentle atmospheric tones lead things off here. A classically oriented, very menacing sound takes the lead from there. This builds up into a powerful and pretty (if a bit dark) musical motif. It turns later to more light spirited music, as if the storm clouds have parted. Then it drops to an acoustic guitar driven ballad style. This is built up in a way that has a lot in common with early Genesis. Then it shifts out into a slightly more energized instrumental section. They drop it back down to just the guitar and voice to continue. Female and male vocal elements dance around each other at one point here. They power it back up the more energetic prog later, but then drop it back to the sounds that served as the introduction. Neo-classical elements take over from there to end it (with a short whispered vocal bit).
Crumble
This is a very pretty piece of music based on elements of Pink Floyd and Genesis brought into the Phideaux world of sound. Classical strings stream across the surface as do waiflike non-lyrical vocals. This is gentle, but quite evocative.
The Doctrine Of Eternal Ice (Part Two)
Even more sedate and beautiful, this comes in with a classic keyboard texture and soft female vocals. Layers of keys and male vocals as accompaniment add to the motif. They power it out into a killer modification of its musical themes as they carry forward. Keys and soaring female vocals dance around one another. The male vocals carry the next verse and they work it through another short instrumental burst. They work through more balladic elements and then power it back out into a killer ever shifting instrumental section. As this resolves outward we get vocals over the top of this motif. They bring in Eastern tones in terms of the music and the female vocals and move this around in some great themes. Then it drops back to a keyboard driven mode to carry on. This gets reworked and revamped as they continue their ever growing alteration of sounds. Then it shifts into a completely different, bouncing, driving motif that might (again) make one think of Rick Wakeman’s solo works. More elements are added to this segment to make it all its own and much more potent. This works out in ever more powerful reiterations and revisitations into a progressive rock masterpiece before climaxing to end.
Thank You For the Evil
Percussion leads this one off and is joined in short order by acoustic guitar and keyboards for flavoring. The keys seem destined to take the lead after a time. As it carries forward it begins to resemble Pink Floyd more thoroughly than anything else on the disc. Even then, they still pull in other sounds and textures to keep it all their own. Still, you might feel like this cut could have been included on Wish You Were Here. As the vocals enter those Floyd elements are even more prevalent. Moody and powerful, this is just plain incredible. It would be really hard to pick a favorite off of this set, but there’s no question this one would make the short list. The keyboards add a lot here and there are some definite Gilmour-like guitar moments. Really, though, the incredibly powerful vocal performance is what steals the show here. A female voice with a classical string section ends it in an intriguing manner and segue into the next piece.
A Wasteland Of Memories
At less than two and a half minutes, this is the shortest track on show here. It’s also pretty much pure classical in terms of music, but the vocals call to mind Pink Floyd and perhaps Alan Parsons. There are some female vocals for augmentation. Although the music becomes pretty powerful, there are no “rock band” instruments, only symphonic one, and the arrangement is purely suited to that lineup.
Crumble
This is a piano based ballad with female vocals. It’s quite straightforward, but also very pretty. It turns quite classical at points.
Formaldehyde
A gentle balladic approach that calls to mind Genesis serves as the icy lake that keyboards skate across. They drop it to more intricate guitar after this introductory segment. The next movement combines these two elements and they continue to drop it back for an almost classical approach from time to time. This is pretty and restful. Sometimes the keyboards create melody lines over the backdrop and at other points its classical strings. Gentle female vocals serve to tell the tale of the first verse. Then the male vocals enter to carry on. This becomes more powerful as the continue and flute brings in a Jethro Tull like feel. Come on, can you really ever have flute in a prog rock song and not think of Tull? Some crunchy guitar serves to augment the arrangement at one point, but is never overpowering. The overall effect of the early parts of this number (it’s one of the over eight-minute pieces) is that of a beautiful prog rock ballad and both the female and male vocals make their return after the instrumental section. I hear shades of Renaissance on this one, too. They move it out later into a hard rocking version of itself. This comes as close to the metallic end as the band ever does, but I don’t think anyone would call this heavy metal. A frantic keyboard driven jam later is very effective. You might hear bits of ELP on this one, as well.
Microdeath Softstar
They saved the biggest beast for last, as this epic is the longest on show here at over fourteen and a half minutes. It starts with space sound effects. Keyboards rise after a time threatening to lead the track off in new directions. Instead of bursting out, as they make you think the composition might, other gentle melody elements emerge over the top as this becomes a slowly drifting piece. A shift takes it into a different direction, but the overall motif doesn’t change. Then the keyboards create a swirling and dramatic line of sound. This has classical elements. It drops away as the other instruments rise up in classically oriented fashion to carry the melodic themes. They turn this into a full-fledged symphonic prog approach that is great. This holds the track for a while, with the themes being reworked and revitalized. Then it drops to a more stripped down approach for the first vocals. As the verse ends violin and other strings carry the musical themes from the last half of the introduction across this new backdrop. When they pull it back down to the next verse it retains a lot of this new energy. Guitar takes a soaring solo over this backdrop later as the symphony instruments continue to tell their tale. The song shifts into slightly metallic territory, then moves back out into more symphonic prog for a verse of female vocals. As they shift out from there it turns into a bit mellower and very dramatic reworkings of these themes. The violin screams a solo across this backdrop after the verse ends. Then they shift out into a killer hard edged prog jam. They move this through a number of variations on the themes with different instruments taking the lead as they continue. You might hear Kansas on quite a bit of this section – and not just because of the violin. They pull it back to a sort of powered up reworking of the earlier themes after this extended musical foray. Then it shifts again to another killer harder edged instrumental journey. This time the guitar takes the main lead role. It turns in some killer classic rock crunchy soloing. They put the next set of vocals over this more energized motif. Another instrumental segment takes over from there with guitar and keys sharing lead duties this time around. The cut continues with the next vocal section over the top of this more energized section. Then a short instrumental motif gives way to an almost Beatlesesque soundscape to transition to a mellow keyboard and vocal ballad approach. After a crescendo they drop it back to gentle keys that move the cut (along with symphonic textures) through a reprise of some of the central themes. This crescendos once more to end the piece (and disc) in a very satisfying fashion. Try to resist the urge to hit “repeat” – I dare you.
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