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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Halloween

Part One

Review by Gary Hill

The first album from French proggers Halloween, this disc is great prog rock album with lots of varying textures. Musically it falls into a more symphonic mellower range with hints of such bands as Alan Parsons Project, Genesis and Emerson Lake and Palmer. The version reviewed here has two bonus tracks. They are live versions of two songs on the disc. While they are a nice addition, it seems that often (this one included) the album makes a stronger complete project with just the original studio presentation. In other words, the bonus tracks (as good as they are) take away from the flow of the original album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Outsider
This cut, and hence the disc, starts tentatively with atmospheric textures, then begins to rise up with a very classical approach. This runs through for the introduction, then the band turn it into a classically-tinged driving progressive rock motif. The vocals on the verse are nearly spoken, but have a bit of bluesy snarl at times. The chorus gains a lot of potency from over layers and a more "sung" vocal line. A very dramatic and majestic (with a hint of mystery) instrumental break ensues later. The cut ends with a short classically dominated instrumental burst after another verse/chorus combo. The lyrics are based on the H. P. Lovecraft story "The Outsider."
What's In?
A hauntingly pretty keyboard dominated ballad style starts this one off. The lyrics come over the top of this backdrop and the song begins gradually building. This one doesn't wander far in terms of song construction. Instead the group simply rework and re-imagine the general structure to keep it interesting. This makes a nice interlude.
Beginning
Dramatic and somewhat creepy keyboard textures begin this one. Other sounds come over for a time, then it shows signs of turning into something else in the form of vivid classical sounds and hints at rock power to come. This turns into a full on prog rock instrumental jam through a series of small changes, then explodes into a progression that feels rather like Emerson Lake and Palmer. Elements of Jean-Luc Ponty come in at times as this jam continues. It works through in this fashion for a while, then turns a corner into a new segment that has a lot of the same elements, but with a new theme. Then it shifts downward to a very sedate and stripped down ballad segment for the first vocals. Keys and other mellow parts come in to accompany this sound as they carry forward. Eventually, though, it bursts back up into a upgraded version of the earlier segments of the cut that takes it through to its conclusion. This one is a highlight of the disc.
Never Die!
Piano begins this and carries it for a time. Then the band join and begin their own interpretations on the musical themes as a prog ballad with spoken vocals that feel a bit like Fish era Marillion at times. The cut moves through minor changes on this general motif as it carries on, getting quite powerful at times. The lyrics are sort of a ghost story. Some exceptionally tasty guitar soloing comes over this one at points. This is another that doesn't stray far from its origins, but the group manage some great interpretations on the basic themes.
Heart Beat
Coming in with some of the weirdest sounds of the disc, atmospheric, but very dramatic and creepy textures start this one. Keys begin playing pretty, yet spooky sounds over the top of this motif. The vocals, in French, come across as echoey spoken recitations that get quite dramatic at times. This gets quite powerful and the speaking becomes very dramatic and nearly shouted at points. Then new elements emerge as the voice shouts them in. The group turn around a corner into a very fusion sounding tentative at first jam. This then alters into something more akin to UK or even Kansas. The guitar work on this segment is especially tasty, and the overall effect is great. They move it back down in terms of arrangement as they turn back into the recited vocals. A short, rather odd, mellow progression ends it.
The Passage
Very pretty keyboard textures begin this one with just a hint of darkness behind them. This short (a minute and a half) keyboard solo is intriguing and a nice change of pace.
Jester's Dance
More strange sounds begin this one, feeling like the soundtrack to a horror film at first. Then keys come over top, followed in short order by the vocals. They turn this into a dramatic keyboard dominated prog journey that again feels a bit like UK. Some of the vocals are in English and some in French. It explodes later into a great progressive rock instrumental jam with violin taking the lead role. This gets quite dramatic and just a little strange and eventually serves as the backdrop for the next vocal section. Then they turn a corner into something that has elements of metal for a moment before dropping it back to nearly all percussion to take it out.
Halloween
Sharing a name with the band, this song is a ten-plus-minute magnum opus. It starts tentatively, then odd sounds with a dramatic texture come in. Spoken vocals come over top and as they carry forward the song begins to feel a bit "creepy." After the verse, the cut changes gear a bit with keyboard dominated sounds taking it into a new dramatic progression. This eventually morphs into a more "typical" prog rock journey. Then a quick stop gives way to a new keyboard dominated segment that feels a bit like Genesis and Marillion. Nearly spoken vocals come over the top of this backdrop. They rework and reinvent this section as they move through several variants on it. Then it explodes into a new jam that feels a bit like ELP meets Genesis. This carries it for a while, then it shifts back to a more stripped down mode before jumping back up to earlier themes. This eventually gives way to a creepy yet pretty "music box" type of melody. This plays through for a time, and then slows, almost like the music box is winding down and stops. A new arrangement on the musical theme based on keys and violin enters and carries this upward in melancholy but very pretty sedate ways. As guitar enters they pump up the intensity and turn this into a slow, but very powerful progressive rock arrangement. This is the most effective section of the album and even takes on Yes-like power at times, while still feeling a bit like Genesis. It eventually carries the song, and the album proper, to a potent and very beautiful conclusion.
Jester's Dance (Live)
The first of two bonus live cuts on this particular release of the CD, this one is a slightly more mainstream arrangement of the earlier cut. It shows that the band's music is not just a studio creation. In fact, I'd have to say that the violin dominated jam in the cut works even better here than on the studio rendition. The vocal segment after rocks out exceptionally well here, too.
Outsider (Live)
The other live bonus cut here, this one is based on the opening track of the album. Parts of the early segments seem to suffer a bit from the live instrumentation, but they put in some cool work here.
 
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