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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Phideaux

Chupacabras

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve recently gotten into Phideaux and really like this group. I’ve reviewed several of their discs and every one of them is great. I’d have to say, though, that of the bunch this is the least consistent. That’s mainly due to a couple of minor missteps. These things aren’t enough to turn someone away from the CD, although it might put it a bit further back on your list to get. The incredible title track epic alone makes this worth having. You could look at everything else (and some of it is also exceptional) as bonus material.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
OK
A killer retro organ sound starts us off here. As this grows it could turn creepy, but instead resembles old Genesis or perhaps ELP. Around the half minute mark this introductory passage ends. Then a more ballad-like structure with echoed guitar rises up. Vocals akin to Gregorian chant come in over the top of this. They are joined by non-lyrical female singing as this short (just over two minutes) instrumental introduction continues.
Chupacabras
At almost twenty one minutes in length this is the epic of the disc. It starts with a slow moving motif that reminds me a lot of Pink Floyd. This is pretty, although rather dark. It grows gradually and organically. Then around the one minute mark the music shifts out to a faster paced jam that’s very much in keeping with the sounds of Yes. This is powerful progressive rock. It gives way to a bouncing sort of jam that’s got Spock’s Beard, Jelly Fish and Genesis all woven into its tapestry. The vocals come in over the top of this tasty jam. They bring little forays into the tapestry here and there with instrumental passages (many that again call to mind such bands as ELP and Yes) but come back again to this central song structure. There’s a particularly powerful instrumental progression around the four minute mark. It runs through for about a minute and then they drop it back to an acoustic guitar based balladic styling. From there they work in another extended instrumental passage. This one showcases more classical stylings, but also has some psychedelic elements. We get some non-lyrical female vocals soaring over the top. Then there are lyrical ones as this turns to something close to Blackmore’s Night. When the vocals really soar I’m reminded of Renaissance. This in turn gives way to a classically tinged, keyboard dominated instrumental segment. It moves out to another balladic section and this time the next vocals come over the top of this. The track grows organically from there. At first we have male vocals, but as this is intensified the female vocals return to bring it way up. Then it reverts back to the mellower motifs and the male singing returns. They seem about to repeat the same building process. Instead of working up to the female driven section, though, they power it into a harder rocking musical section that at first is closer to neo-prog. Then it moves to something like Pink Floyd. These two sounds seem to be merged after a time as guitar soars overhead. The next vocals come in over this backdrop. This holds it til past the twelve minute mark. Then it crescendos and sound noise and keys create a segue that makes you think it might change. Instead a bluesy acoustic guitar rises and morphs into a new balladic structure. While the down-home blues texture remains other layers of sound bring it into a more fully progressive rock oriented mode. This grows gradually upwards. Remaining acoustically driven, this also stays instrumental and holds the piece until around sixteen minutes in. Then a new progressive rock motif that’s more electrified, faster and soaring takes over. Female vocals (the non-lyrical variety) come over top and this whole ride feels at times like Yes and at other points like Genesis. It’s a real powerhouse. Around the seventeen and a half minute this becomes crunchier and feels more like neo-prog. Female vocals returns around the eighteen minute mark and takes us through another movement. Then it drops back to a section that feels like a more powered up version of the bouncing motif that had the first vocals. That section stays instrumental, but the male voices come back in (over a keyboard based balladic motif) after a crescendo. This intensifies for some joint vocals and then we drop back to a mellower motif to end this.

Party
Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree come to mind here, but I also hear hints of Gary Numan (the keyboard oriented era). When the female vocals enter I’m reminded of Lana Lane. Then when the male voice joins it’s perhaps closer to modern Marillion. This track feels like it has quite a bit in common with synthesizer heavy pop rock of the 1980’s but with a more adventurous and prog rock driven motif. Around the three minute mark it drops down to a weird little spoken word segment. Then it rises back upwards. The lyrics take a dark twist and the track builds upward. It drops back at the end for an acapella (with some effects) outro.
Fortress of Sand
This track is essentially a ballad. It starts rather symphonic and eventually turns into a Porcupine Tree like track. Still, I can hear modern Marillion and Pink Floyd in the mix.
Ruffian On the Stairs
The early sections of this are sure to have the prog purists running for the exits. It comes in heavy and raw rather like Nine Inch Nails. After a while like this it drops way down to a somewhat creepy, mellower section. I can hear some Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd on this, but also some punk rock. It grows up later by merging the two disparate sounds for the chorus, but drops back again for the next verse. The ending is a short metal burst.

Sunburnt
Mellower and quite psychedelic this feels a lot like early Pink Floyd. It gets a little harder rocking at times and also shifts out to a rather Yesish section for the outro.
Return of the Ruffian
Here we get more metallic sounds. This is slow moving and I’d really come very close to calling it heavy metal. There are more Gary Numan leanings here, but from the guitar oriented era. The lyrics on this track get a “parental warning.” The final jam on this starts metal and turns punk.

Titan
Take a bass guitar. Play a balladic melody line on it. That’s the intro to this track. Bring in other elements as icing on the cake and then the vocals. Grow it gradually. Turn the corner into a segue section and then return to the earlier stylings without the bass guitar driving it. Now add a powerful female vocal line. Then intensify things as it carries forward. Turn it extremely powerful as you continue bringing it up further. Give it a noisy crescendo and then move back to the first vocal section to end. You have just created “Titan.”
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