Cliffhanger was a Dutch progressive rock band founded in March 1993 by keyboardist Dick Heijboer. At the time he met bass player Gijs Koopman who later on became an outstanding musician and composer for the band. He had an important role in the band in which he developed an original and melodic style of playing the bass guitar. After Koopman guitarist Rinie Huigen joined the band. He proved to be a skilful frontman with a distinctive voice, and last but not least drummer Hans Boonk joined Cliffhanger. With his powerful drumming he completed the typical sound of the band. Cliffhanger's repertoire consists only of self-penned material arranged by the individual band members.
After a lot of hard work, composing and rehearsing they recorded a demo tape in 1993 followed by a second one in 1994. These tapes and several gigs eventually led to a record deal with the Dutch SI Music label. In 1995 SI Music released Cold Steel, Cliffhanger's debut. Characteristic for the music of Cliffhanger is the use of vintage instruments like the Moog Taurus bass pedals, the Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer and the Rickenbacker bass.
The live performances of Cliffhanger were very successful, which resulted in the albums Not To Be Or Not To Be (1996) and Mirror Site (1998) before they disbanded for the first time, but only to re-form a few months later to record the first live album Hope And Despair (1998). Then they broke up again, but in 2001 the new album Circle came out. However, this album definitely appeared to be their swan song. All band members pursued other careers. Heijboer became a producer and Huigen and Koopman joined the newly established prog band Knight Area. Currently Koopman is the only member who's still active in Sylvium and Ulysses. In the summer of 2012 the band members agreed with FREIA Music to re-release the sold-out debut album. Dick Heijboer carefully remastered the original album and added thirteen previously released and unreleased tracks. This double CD is presented in a digipack with new artwork and extensive liner notes by all members.
Views, the first track of the original Cold Steel album is quite impressive. This is prog rock at its best with a beautiful intro, interesting lyrics and lots of solos from different instruments. What more can one wish on a cold day in December? Kill Your Darlings is also an excellent piece with a beautiful mixture of the music of Yes, ELP and Pallas. Four Vessels is a difficult song for me to review. I like some solo parts, but the difficult structures and complicated rhythm changes aren't really my cup of tea. If you like the music of the legendary British band UK, I think you'll enjoy this piece. The church organ is well-played In Six Minutes Closer To Death, a varied and tragic song about the end of life.
Remaining Rancour is a busy instrumental in the vein of early Camel with a very long and slightly irritating intro. The long track Bad Dreams (Cruel Visions) is much better since it has more tension. The last two songs of the remastered album are bonus tracks. Feels Like Flying starts surprisingly with a jazzy piano intro, while the end could have been played by the English prog giant Genesis. The second bonus track and the final song of this remastered album is Sinister Memories, a more melodic piece with catchy, almost funky rhythms gradually building to a climax. This is a perfect ending for an excellent release.
The first two tracks of the extended version of Cold Steel are live versions of Oh Cloudy Cloudy Sky and Here Comes The Utopian. The menacing synth chords in combination with the lyrics about warfare and several nice guitar and synth solos make these intertwined songs a perfect start for this reissue. Truce is dominated by elegant, crystal clear guitar parts and intelligent lyrics. Kill Your Darlings is more in the vein of Yes and ELP; although it's technically well-played this is not my favourite song. The main reason is Huigen's voice which is too expressive in my opinion. However, the acoustic guitar solo of Rinie Huigen is one of the highlights in the romantic song Good Things (Last Forever). You can also hear an example of the virtuoso bass playing of Koopman; he's constantly duelling with Heijboer's keyboards. They perfectly play in what I regard to be the best song of the extended version of Cold Steel.
Escape holds many tempo changes and a joyful theme, while in Hope And Despair all the aforementioned elements return like some excellent solos from all band members. Unfortunately the only minus point is again Huigen's voice, but surprisingly he's doing a much better job in the dark song Colossus. These versions of Four Vessels and Colossus slightly differ from the original versions. The almost instrumental song Rainforest is jazzier. It sounds like a car race of the individual instruments with this time a main role for the drums of Hans Boonk. This long track contains beautiful sounds of the Taurus bass pedals and the biting and sarcastic vocals of Rinie Huigen. Hopeless is the final song lasting over fifteen minutes. It's also the most optimistic piece that begins with a bass solo; the vocal part is slightly too theatrical, but musically it's okay. The last five minutes are filled with flashy synthesizer solos and brilliantly played bass and drum parts ending with musical chaos and applause.
I think it's rather strange that after all these years I still wonder why Cliffhanger didn't get more attention and more credits for their musical skills. They certainly deserved more than to remain in obscurity. Maybe now is the right time to reunite in the studio or even better: on stage.
**** Cor Smeets (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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