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Progressive Rock DVD/Video Reviews

Chain

Chain.exe DVD - Limited Edition

Review by Josh Turner

This artist is known best for the dynamic duo of Frameshift albums: Unweaving the Rainbow & An Absence of Empathy. Yet, fans of Frameshift will certainly like the Chain projects too. Don't let this fall off your radar because there is no LaBrie or Bach in the credits. Henning finds himself many great vocalists for Chain, even if you haven't heard of all of them. Do not forget that Henning, who is a gifted guitarist, pianist, and producer, has gone undetected in the music world for years. Not to mention, all the artists that play in or among his circle appear to be extraordinarily talented as well. Still, he gets a few ringers to join in on the game. Jody Ashworth (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mike Kenneally (Frank Zappa, Beer for Dolphins), and Michael Sadler (Saga) are among the guests that surface at this particular party. In addition, you find brilliant and capable new blood by the names of Victoria Trevathick, Maya Haddi, Edward Heppenstall, Steve Katsikas, and Sean Andrews. As for the core members of the band (Matt Cash, Vocals; Stephen Kernbach, Keys; Christian Becker, Bass; Eddie Marvin, Drums) they are like The Fantastic Four. However, in this script you will find out that Henning (Guitars, Banjo, and additional Keys & Bass) is less like Doctor Doom and probably more along the lines of Doctor Demento. This extensive and skilled crew should be enough of a reason to check out Chain the band. As for the DVD, it is the perfect companion for any of Henning Pauly's projects.

For starters, there is a lot of humor weaved into this production. Pain of Salvation beats Henning Pauly to the punch when it comes to the fake copyright warnings, but the one here is just as funny. There is no doubt who influenced the direction of this decision. For those of you who have met or heard of this artist, you will instantly realize that what is written is classic Henning Pauly humor all the way. Even the cover art is somewhat of a joke. Once you put two and two together, this too is sure to cause a snicker.

While the DVD doesn't necessarily include full-length songs from the official release, it does contain loads of material. For starters, it features interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. It is cool seeing how the music is made and hearing from those involved. There are plenty of sessions with all the singers. It is interesting to hear the voices find their melody and range while they work out the kinks without the instrumentals. For anybody who needs vocals in their music, you'll find the development of these parts to be quite intriguing. There are interviews with each of the four band members. There are numerous pictures taken during their musical endeavors both in and out of the studio. There is even a miscellaneous section that serves up a handful of scrumptious snacks.

Let's take a look at each of the subdivisions that makes up this diverse disc:

Recording

It is very obvious that Henning has a short attention span. When working with Matt Cash, the session starts out serious, but it doesn't take long before the two of them begin to clown around. It is certainly catalyzed by Henning's misbehavior. When Matt drops a pencil, Henning is quick to make faces at the screen.

I witnessed similar behavior when I was interviewing Steve Katsikas of Little Atlas. At the time, it was the opening day of ROSfest. We were in an Italian deli across the street from the Colonial Theater, which happens to be the venue for the festival. Henning was seated behind us having lunch with his usual partner in crime, Shawn Gordan, the president of Prog Rock Records. There were plenty of strange faces and goofy antics coming from the two of them that day and no prank seemed to be too small. If a camera was in sight, you could expect the bunny ears to come out. One could say all work and no play makes Henning a dull boy.

Due to the fact his attention goes in many directions, there is no lack of fertile ground for his inventive ideas. His music ebbs and flows and remains interesting all the way from start to finish. While there are parts of the process that require seriousness, music can get boring fast without a little comic relief. Fortunate for us, Henning never seems to have this problem in the studio. Like Jack Nicholson, he always finds a way to shine. When it comes time to perform, he rips out a riff or formulates an idea at the spur of the moment. He always seems to know when he sees a good idea unfolding and many times he is the creator of this creativity.

It's a sight to see Mike Kenneally recording his guitar parts for "Last Chance to See." This guy can really play and he shares some wonderful insight while they're working. When they are talking about how different guitarists sound so differently even when they play the same parts on the same equipment, he states "That's the great thing about the guitar. It's such a human instrument." It's obvious the wisdom of Frank Zappa rubbed off on him.

Victoria Trevathick is another artist that's interesting to watch. She gets stuck with the giggles during her session and it is so contagious you could say it's highly communicable. On one part, there is a lengthy pause. She jokes, "during that pause, you could go get lunch." There is a lot of playful banter in her warm-up session, so much mischief that they have a lot of trouble staying on task. While this doesn't play as good music (that you will find on the CD), it is exuberant and entertaining parts such as these that justify the DVD experience. In a way, it's Henning's very own version of Spinal Tap.

I must say, Victoria has a heavenly voice. I'd certainly like to see her in more projects as I'm enamored with this amazing lady. Watching this section will make you want to run out and start producing your own music. It just looks like so much fun and it is a delight to watch her work her magic.

As far as semantics, Victoria and Henning get into a discussion on singing the word "Bablefish". It's a strange word to put in a song, but oddly enough, when you hear it in the music, it works just fine. Also, there is a part where she sings, "you and me" where "you and I" would be grammatically correct within its context. While I can't imagine many would notice such a small infraction, Henning provides large subtext on the screen in order to provide his explanation. The reason is simple. He just states that it sounds better. I find it funny that they would think this would create confusion in that many people's minds. Most of the time in music, you can hardly hear the lyrics. When you do, few people are actually paying attention to the grammar. I doubt many people who would even debate this decision.

Henning has a cozy studio and a laid-back approach. He works the computers and directs the artists while they jam the best that they can. Henning shows himself to be quite a competent guitarist and keyboardist as he works with the artists. He plays his parts on the spot without flaws or hesitation. The guy is full to the brim with talent.

The coolest part of the entire production surfaces in this section and Henning calls it "Rythmicology". It's a music lesson about time signatures and beats that play into the songwriting process. He uses examples from the epic cut "Cities" off the Reconstruct album. Listen to that song and then watch this little lecture. The song will never sound the same. I found this part to be awfully enlightening.

During the recordings, Shawn Gordon can be seen holding the camera that was used to record this documentary. He shows up as an apparition in the reflection of the glass wall that separates the singer from Henning Pauly the producer. Shawn is more or less the Lorne Michaels of Progressive Rock.

In this section, we also sit in on the studio recordings of Maya Haddi, Jody Ashworth, and Michael Sadler.


Interviews

The DVD contains extensive interviews with each of the band members…

Stephan, who adorns a shirt, of the band The Tea Party, talks about founding the band in 1993. He shares the influence he got from the latest albums by Dream Theater, Queensryche, and Fates Warning. He talks about how they were so focused in the songwriting process that many times they even forgot to get something to eat (I guess they should have coordinated that with Victoria's pause). Ultimately, they were unsuccessful when it came to completing the material because most people into the music couldn't sing. Those who could did not "get" the music. Years later the material, originally called "Never Leave the Past Behind" was revisited and became the skeleton to Chain's Reconstruct, hence the title of the album. He says it was the best present he ever got when Henning revitalized, refined, and reconstructed this material out of the ashes from the past. He graciously gives credit to Henning for constituting the new material.

Stephan's interview gives us a lot of interesting insight into the innerworkings of Chain. He discusses his new band Transmission and talks about the days of Jefour (there is even footage of one of the band's performances wedged within the interview). During that time, the other members formed their own trio and brought in a violin player named Arnim Ohlemacher. Stephan explains some of the errors in their communication, as he was not being replaced, but that's what he thought at the time. It turns out they were simply saving him from playing music that might not have interested him (or at least that's the cover story at the moment). When you look at the difference in styles, it actually does make sense. Remember folks, communication is crucial! Thanks to Henning's editing and narrated text, there is humor mixed into Stephan's serious interview.

Matt, on the other hand, is a real down-to-earth individual when it comes to his speaking tone. He does the universal symbol for quotes and then says he should quit doing that. He is obviously self-aware. He explains in a joking manner that his part is basically doing what he is told. He'll try things out in the session and wait on whether or not Henning nods approvingly. When he gets a favorable response, his input makes it in.

While most producers take a more sterile approach to interviews, Henning instead tries to make it feel real. At one point, he has the question repeated when Matt refuses to answer. He drills away until he gets the desired reaction. This is clever and it makes it feel like you're there with the artist razzing him rather than listening in on a choppy, formulaic discussion.

Matt shares some positive feedback on Michael Saddler, who makes a guest appearance on the album. As you may have guessed, there is more impromptu humor in Matt's interview. Aside from the guest musicians, Matt seems to be the only one in the band without a thick German accent. To the contrary, he's as American as apple pie. Matt's interview is relatively short as many questions are answered with short responses, antics, or just plain silence coupled with a smirk.

Christian is the most serious of the bunch, even more so than Stephan. He seems to be focused strictly on the task at hand. He talks about how he joined the band. We even get a taste of him in action with Transmission doing what appears to be a cover of Midnight Oil's Beds Are Burning. He even pauses at one moment to take a sip of wine and I don't think he was even trying to be funny. As Doug Heffernan (alter-ego of Kevin James) from King of Queens always says, "What is up with that?"

We go on a field trip with Christian to the Magnus' guitar shop and his talk with the proprietor is completely in German. I don't speak the language, so I can't tell you what they are saying, but it appears they are talking about how he wants a certain custom guitar built. Later, he has an interesting chat on touchstyle tapping. His approach is unique in the sense that he uses a six string bass instead of a Warr Guitar. There is an effort to get Christian to joke around, but it's unsuccessful. The interviewer (who is not shown, but I suspect it's Henning) does manage to get a chuckle out of him before it is over, but that's about it.

Afterwards, there is a section that's a lot like a Monty Python bit. This is where he interviews drummer Eddie Marvin. The host is Max Quardopleenn. The title of the sequence is called People who are NOT famous. The humor is dry and subtle. Overall, it's silly and weird, but it did get a couple gut-busting laughs out of me. On any other DVD, this would have surprised me. Here, however, it seems comfortably at home. Appropriately enough, the credits to this part acknowledge psychiatric supervision. Looking closer, Eddie Marvin's name is associated with this role. It's all a bit schizophrenic if you ask me and one has to wonder if Henning has multiple personalities. You never quite know if he is joking around or being serious.

When it comes time for Henning to speak, he basically fills in all the gaps and shares some trivia. He talks about the ambush reunion where he gave Reconstruct to his bandmates as a Christmas present. Talk about a gift where the thought really counts. He talks about the opportunity to work with James LaBrie and the attention it has brought to Chain. He also shows us the Warr Guitar, which he explains to be the Chapman Sticks with a body and a guitar sound. I never realized how menacing and wicked this instrumental actually looks until I was up close and personal with it in this demo.

There is even a visit to Henning's parents nestled into the interviews as well. It is obvious where his silliness originates. There is a similar personality between him and his mother. Sitting on the couch in her rec room, she is melodramatic in her efforts to eat a salad. His father, on the other hand, comes off as an eccentric individual, deliberately acting as if he is out of touch, and then making sure to give us a big yawn for the camera. As the scene fades out, he is brimming from ear to ear with a smile.

Henning makes no apologies for his shameless plug section either. He points fans to magnus-guitars.de, nordstrandguitars.com, and steinberg.net. He talks about how he managed to get Michael Saddler and Mike Kenneally to contribute. He tells us how Maya nails her part and then goes home to her baby. He explains how Sean Andrews was sitting in the background of the studio one day, playing along on bass. On impulse, he decides to track this part and that's how Sean's stunt bass contribution came into the picture. He also takes time out to thank a complete stranger, Rabin Cohen from Recluse, who bought him a guitar at a music shop one day, just for helping him out.

Pictures

The DVD also includes an extensive snapshot section. The slide show is super long and you will learn two things from it:

First, Henning is a huge fan of Dream Theater. Each one of the guys from his band gets numerous shots with Petrucci, Portnoy, LaBrie, and Rudess. For some reason, Myung is missing. Maybe he saw what was going on and didn't want to get stuck in this melee of obsessive filmmaking.

Secondly, Matt Cash looks a lot like Eminem when he's clean-shaven and wearing a cap. While he is the splitting image of this controversial rapper, as you'll find in his interview, his personality couldn't be any more carefree and lax.

Miscellaneous

The miscellaneous section includes a complete music video (Eama Hut), gags, and credits. Here you'll find more shameless plugs for the various projects Henning is working on. Plus, there is a plethora of performances from a number of the associated bands (e.g. Transmission: Calling & Make You Believe; Berklee School of Music Showcase performing The Police's Synchronicity; F.O.R.O.: cover of Savatage's Sleep & an instrumental; Random Live Stuff: Jefour, Behind the Scenes, more Transmission, a Dream Theater cover of Pull Me Under, & Storyteller; Special Bonus Track: Pride Is My Bitch written for Ed Happenstaff).

Within this section, Thorsten is shown playing a wicked drum solo at age 15. Also, we get a glimpse of Henning in the nineties with much longer hair. Donning this hairdo, he is almost unrecognizable.

This section is priceless as Henning says there is almost no chance of seeing him perform live anytime soon, because his music is so overly engineered in the studio. I don't know why he would make such a comment as he truly is one hell of a guitar player and really should consider forming a line-up where he can do some live gigs. With a growing fanbase, there should certainly be enough demand.

Summary

For a disc that has little focus on songs, it is jam packed with all kinds of great little goodies. Between Henning and all his friends, there is a mountain of talent to discover here. Henning is not only a great producer of music, but the DVD has many positive and professional qualities. The animations and effects are all put together quite well and the navigation is designed in a practical manner. Even the menu system is littered with exceptional imagery and elegant instrumental themes.

Truth be told, this is not the main course. That you'll find in the official release. Yet, this material still has much merit. This DVD will give you insight into what you may have been missing out on. It should suffice whether it is your first exposure or just supplemental material. Take a deep bite and let it digest slowly.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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