Jury's Verdict #4

On this page we will list a multiple review of a selection of 3 albums out of the (in our humble opinion) most important or interesting recent releases.

  X Airbag
All Rights Removed

Full review
X Arena
The Seventh Degree Of Separation

Full review
X Brighteye Brison
The Magician Chronicles, part 1
Full review
X Henri
The second release of this Norwegian progressive rock band is again strongly influenced by the music recorded by Pink Floyd. Their guitarist Björn Riis will certainly mention David Gilmour to be one of his musical heroes. Compared to the debut album this release has a lot more variety. This time we also hear up-tempo tunes and even a long epic piece which prevents the songs from sounding alike. All Rights Removed is much more balanced than their debut Identity. So thumbs up for this wonderful release!


Rating: ****  
In the past Arena released strong concept albums like The Visitor (1998) and Contagion (2003). Therefore I'm inclined to compare the new concept album The Seventh Degree Of Separation with those previous ones. The music is again outstanding, but to be honest I think the compositions don't always meet the same high level as those on the aforementioned albums. However, it needs to be said that you have to listen to this album more often to catch the beauty of this musical concept. Despite the new singer Paul Manzi and an absence of more than five years, the sound of Arena is still very recognizable and therefore this album is a must have for all their fans.


Rating: ***+
The Magician Chronicles, part 1 is an album that certainly belongs to my musical highlights of 2011. Especially people who fancy the progressive rock music recorded by bands as Yes, The Flower Kings and other related bands will enjoy this album. Listen for instance to the 23-minute long epic piece The Rise Of Brighteye Brison. This track is a real musical roller-coaster that blows you out of your chair. For me the whole album is just a musical journey beyond imagination! This release has to be checked out by people who enjoy the symphonic sound of analogue synthesizers, strong harmony vocals, Mellotrons, Hammond organs, intricate arrangements and dazzling harmonies. My only negative remark is the length of the album. A total playing time of hardly 44 minutes is much too short for a full-length album nowadays.

Rating: ****+
X Peter
Identity (2009), the debut album of the Norwegian band Airbag, sounded beautiful but music wise it was rather boring. All pieces sounded quite similar to me. The new album is slightly better, but still a bit dull mainly due to the tedious voice of singer Asle Torstrup. Yet I rate All Rights Removed above average because the singing is for the greater part compensated by the excellent guitar solos of Björn Riis. Although this album is more varied than its predecessor, I couldn't find a track without dull passages. So for me, the adage 'never a dull moment' doesn't apply to this album. However, there's one exception: the long epic Homesick I-III containing great guitar solos in the vein of David Gilmour. Even the keyboards sometimes sound as if the spirit of the late Rick Wright has returned...   


Rating: ***
Being a devotee of Arena since the beginning in 1995, I felt a bit disappointed after listening to The Seventh Degree Of Separation. Well, is it that bad? No, no, not at all, it's just eh... different, not like Arena... I hardly heard any guitar or keyboard solos by John Mitchell and Clive Nolan, no epics, it's heavier, less symphonic and it seems that the compositions appeal less to me. To put it briefly, the music is simpler, rockier and as a result more radio-friendly. Is that a problem? No, it isn't, maybe I have to get used to it, that's all. Of course, Paul Manzi certainly is a great singer, the best Arena ever had but his voice is too obtrusively mixed in the front. Maybe my expectations for this new album after waiting almost six years ran too high or maybe I'm just getting too old...

Rating: ***+
The new album of the Swedish band Brighteye Brison starts promising with the 23-minute epic piece The Rise Of Brighteye Brison. It comprises fine close harmony vocals in the vein of their compatriots of Moon Safari albeit more complex. Despite the fact that I don't like the jazzy and fusion parts with the strident saxophone, this music can certainly be called progressive in the true sense of the word. It's a mixture of fusion, prog, symphonic, jazz and even experimental with mellow, up-tempo and mid-tempo passages. Second track The Magician's Cave isn't of my liking. It's a kind of soundtrack with narrators and too much jazzy music for my ears. In the final piece the harmony vocals return and also the more prog rock oriented passages. This piece holds alternating strong and weaker passages. Especially the first track contains lots of fine moments, but in my opinion the album halts too much between two opinions: it's neither fish nor flesh...

Rating: **+
X André
de Waal
For me Airbag gets full honour for their second effort All Rights Removed. The excellent blend of Pineapple Thief playing old Porcupine Tree songs with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour guesting on guitar and Steve Wilson singing a tune every now and then, makes for a pretty big sound in which the guitar playing by Björn Riis has a leading role. I'm not known for being overly positive, but I'm now with Airbag and quite rightly so. All Rights Removed proves for me why prog isn't dead; not by a long shot! Okay, I've got one complaint about this CD: why is it only fifty minutes long and not five hundred?


Rating: *****
Arena has never really been known for their subtlety and in true fashion The Seventh Degree Of Separation opens with a lot of bombast which overwhelms the listener. However, the problem is that this kind of grand music has to be embedded in good compositions to stay interesting for the playing time of the entire CD, in this case almost one hour. And again Arena doesn't fully succeed in that. There are some great tunes like The Great Escape and The Ghost Walks, there's an interesting storyline, and new singer Paul Manzi - who often sounds like Damian Wilson - does a commendable job. However, there are also songs that just don't stick because they keep the same high energy level without interesting breaks. Or they sound too much like a band as Threshold in Rapture, One Last Au Revoir and Close your Eyes. But all in all, it's nice to hear again from Arena after a hiatus of almost six years. 

Rating: **+
To be quite honest I never really paid much attention to Brighteye Brison, in fact I kept forgetting their name and the same is true for their music. That is, until now, because The Magician Chronicles, part 1 is a record which could propel this band to the forefront of the current prog scene. Neither neo-prog, nor post-rock prog, but this is good old-fashioned prog in a modern package. Three long songs of which two are bona fide epics, a concept story, good musicians, these Swedish guys are on the road to fame and fortune. Yes, I do hear references to Yes and The Flower Kings- how can you avoid the latter being Swedish? - even some jazz fusion, and in the singing there are some elements of Gentle Giant too, so that gives a nice edge to this music. Bring on part 2!


Rating: ****
January 2012

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