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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Alan Simon

Excalibur IV: The Dark Age of the Dragon

Review by Gary Hill

This is the newest CD from Alan Simon. Simon is a French artist who has been releasing powerful rock operas like this one for a long time. I've also reviewed his double CD compilation album in this current issue. Like the music there, this album includes a lot of guest performances with artists ranging from Martin Barre to Michael Sadler, Bernie Shaw, Sonja Kristina and more. This is symphonic rock with a lot of folk edge to it. Yet it really rocks out, too. All in all, this is a great concept album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
The Wings of the Dragon (Alan Stivell / John Helliwell from Supertramp, Martin Barre from Jethro Tull)
Coming in rather atmospheric and quite dramatic, this moves outward from there in style. This makes its way outward to a powerful arrangement that's noisy and so cool. It works through like that until around the two minute mark. Then it fires out into a new fast paced symphonic prog jam that is quite tasty. Guitar soloing comes over the top after a while. It works through a number of changes as it carries onward. At times it works into fusion territory. While a section of the lyrics is in English, the bulk are in French.
Alone (Michael Sadler from Saga and John Helliwell)

This is such a beautiful and poignant cut. The saxophone lends something to this, but the whole cut is just so tasty.

Stonehenge (Alan Stivell / John Helliwell, Martin Barre)

Symphonic prog elements bring this into being. This cut has some cool changes and movements. I like the flute solo a lot. It's another with lyrics in French, I believe. Again, the saxophone is a nice touch.

I'm Not the Only One (Jess Siebenberg from Supertramp)

There is a bit a Pink Floyd or Alan Parsons vibe to this cut. It's a bit more mainstream. It's a great cut.

Calling for You (Moya Brenna from Clannad)

I love the rocking angle of this cut. The melodic elements are always at its heart, though. This is another powerhouse melodic prog tune.

Don't Be Afraid (Alan Stivell, John Helliwell, Martin Barre)

A much harder rocking number, this is more of an AOR prog stomper. It leans toward metal at times. It driving and powerful.

Silver Moon (Moya Brenna from Clannad)

Intricate and quite lush in arrangement, this is a very melodic cut. It's also one of the prettiest pieces here.

Dreamers (Bernie Shaw from Uriah Heep, Martin Barre)

A cool rocker, there is a Celtic edge to a lot of this Shaw's vocals really bring some magic to the table.

The Last Lament of a Fairy (Siobhan Owen)

Intricate and quite pretty, the Celtic harp adds a lot to this table. It's a very old world styled number.

The New Times (Robert Tiranti, Martin Barre)

With a lot of world music stylings in it, this comes in with a rather acoustic, but really rocking movement. It turns toward the electric as it marches forward.

Forget Your Sorrow (Jess Siebenberg)

Very much a mainstream balladic cut, this is catchy, but not one of the more compelling numbers here. It's just a bit too adult contemporary to really manage to stand tall.

The Fifth Season (John Helliwell, Martin Barre)

Hard edged, this instrumental leans between Celtic prog and heavy metal. It has some killer guitar work. Other instruments including violin get a chance to shine, too.  This is a driving number that is very effective.

The Passion (Sonja Kristina from Curved Air)

A folk prog number, this is strong. Kristina's vocals are a big part of the magic here.

I Will Be for Ever (Michael Sadler, John Helliwell, Martin Barre)

A killer rocker, this is another with some hints of metal. It has some powerhouse hard rocking sections. Those are interspersed with mellower, dropped back movements. I like the saxophone solo. The balance between hard edged and softer is great on this tune. There are definitely symphonic elements that work quite well, too.

Behind the Mist (John Helliwell, Martin Barre)

This instrumental comes in with a cool jazz rock vibe. It has a lot of fusion built into it alongside plenty of Jethro Tull like sounds. There is some smoking hot saxophone soloing on this number.

You Don't Know (John Helliwell, Martin Barre)

The guest list on the sleeve also includes Alan Simon, but given that the album is released under his name, I left that one off my listing here. I can hear a lot of Alan Parsons on the mellower sections of this cut. The more powered up sections get into harder rocking territory. The section with the soaring saxophone brings an intriguing diversion. This is one of the most effective and powerful tracks here.

You Are the Sunshine (Jess Siebenber, Martin Barre)

Coming in with a decidedly Celtic element, this drops back after for the verse. It's definitely along the lines of a folk rock sound.

There Is Someone (Siobah Owen)

Another intricate, slow moving piece, the vocals on this are spoken at the start. Again, I love the harp on this piece. It's quite old-time in sound. This is much more folk music than it is rock.

Dun Aengus II (Maite Itoiz from Elfenthal)

This one gets symphonic and operatic. It's not really my kind of thing. I'm not into opera. That said, I like the bombastic nature of the cut.

 
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