Jury's Verdict #5

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 3RDegree
The Long Division
Full review
X DeeExpus
King of Number 33

Full review
X Mostly Autumn
The Ghost Moon Orchestra
Full review
X Henri
Sometimes it's very difficult to pigeon-hole a band's musical style. The Long Division is a good example, because it's hard to say which bands inspired 3RDegree writing such excellent pieces of music. I think I heard certain elements that slightly reminded me of Gentle Giant, but also traces of the music that bands like Genesis or Yes made in the eighties. It's hard to say and that just applies to their musical style. Sure it's prog rock, without doubt, but they also included songs that tend towards a style you might describe as jazz-rock or fusion. Even the more radio-friendly tracks are present on The Long Division. However, this mixture of different styles seems to work perfectly; while listening to the entire album I kept focussed throughout. For that reason I can only be positive about it, so well done indeed.

Rating: ****  
On their debut Half Way Home (2008) you could hear that Porcupine Tree had been a big influence to DeeExpus. The same kind of guitar solos, grooves and riffs could be heard. I expected their second album to be as strong as their first one. They didn't let me down and recorded a fantastic new album with fewer influences of PT and a musical style that can easily be labelled  as neo-progressive rock. It could have been that the  help of Mark Kelly (Marillion) on keyboards caused this shift in musical style. It's mainly the 27- minute epic King Of Number 33 that keeps your focussed on the music. It contains strong musical parts shifting from mellow to more up-tempo passages in which you can enjoy excellent synthesizer and guitar solos. I think the band made a giant step forward with this second album. I hope their next release will even be better!

Rating: ****
I think The Ghost Moon Orchestra is a better album than Go Well Diamond Heart not only because of Olivia Sparnenn's strong voice, but also thanks to the far better compositions. I couldn't spot any weak tracks at all on this album. Even the simpler sounding songs they usually start an album with are much better as far as I'm concerned. It seems as if they were more inspired this time to come up with such perfect compositions. Therefore The Ghost Moon Orchestra belongs to the best albums Mostly Autumn recorded in recent years. This change of lead singers undoubtedly inspired the band to produce some fantastic music that belongs to one of the better releases of 2012!

Rating: ****
X Peter
Before listening to this album, I wasn't familiar with the American crossover prog band 3RDegree, but this certainly is a good band. They got four singers which means fine harmony singing. However, lead singer George Dobbs sometimes finds it necessary to scream, which is detrimental to the tension of the music and a minor point for this album. But then again his keyboard playing is just great. I would call this music typical American with its blend of funk, pop, prog and fusion. Although they really master their instruments, I'm not fond of this mixture of different styles. It reminded me sometimes of Steely Dan, but I also heard traces of Gentle Giant, Yes, their fellow-Americans of Little Atlas and even Crosby, Stills & Nash due to the perfect harmony vocals. The longest track Memetic Pandemic is also my favourite one thanks to the perfect harmonies and the piano and Hammond playing.

Rating: **+
King Of Number 33 is the second album of the British prog band DeeExpus after their debut Half Way Home (2008). I didn't expect a great successor after this rather mediocre album, but how wrong can one be! This second effort is really great mainly due to the excellent contributions on keyboards by Mark Kelly (Marillion). He's emphatically present on this album which resulted in a blend of symphonic keyboard-orientated prog and heavy but well-balanced guitar riffs of band leader Andy Ditchfield and Steve Wright. I played this record three times, but I couldn't discover any weak track. My absolute highlight is the title track, an epic piece lasting for almost 27 minutes. In my opinion King Of Number 33 belongs to the finest albums of 2012, provided that you love heavy prog with a lot of keyboards.

Rating: ****+
After lead singer Heather Findlay had left Mostly Autumn, they were still looking for renewing their music with the new lead singer Olivia Sparnenn. As a result the album Go Well Diamond Heart (2010) lacked a bit of musical direction, although it wasn't a bad album at all. However, this second album with Sparnenn is much better and more balanced. With all respect, I think Olivia is a better singer than Findlay which now starts to bear fruit. But that's not the only reason why this is a better album. The compositions mainly created by band leader and guitarist Bryan Josh have more depth, although a couple of tracks slightly tend to pop music. My favourite song is Wild Eye Skies which starts with the Uillean pipes played by guest musician Troy Donockley; it contains fine piano playing by Iain Jennings, sweet singing by Olivia and a fine melody line.

Rating: ***+
X Ian
I found The Long Division by 3RDegree an album of contradictions and one that seemed to be unsure of what genre it wanted to belong to. It's partly pop music, some progressive rock and a bit of jazz and fusion. As a result, the album comes across as something experimental as if 3RDegree are unsure of the musical direction in which they want to go. Despite the experimental feel of the album and its confusing musical direction, this isn't a bad record at all. The musicianship is good while the mixing and the dynamic range are well-balanced. The big question is: would I buy it? Honestly, I really don't know. I've purchased worse albums and grown to like them over time. I've listened to this album almost a dozen times so far and while there are some tracks I really like, the album just doesn't hang tight for me.

Rating: ***
King Of Number 33 by DeeExpus is an album of contradictions, but it's a real improvement compared to Half Way Home (2008), their first studio album. The musical balance of the album is good and there is a real polish to the tracks. Both of these show that there's much more to come from DeeExpus in the future. The partnership of Andy Ditchfield and Tony Wright has now been expanded by including Mark Kelly (Marillion). This marks a rare departure from Marillion for Kelly, but if these three really come together, we could be looking at a significant band for the future. On the other hand, it's almost so middle-of-the-road that it should have come with white lines across the middle of the CD. No matter how many times I listened to this album, it didn't get to the end and made me press'play' again. King Of Number 33 is a transitional album hinting a real excitement for the  future.

Rating: ***
After the mediocrity of Go Well Diamond Heart, Mostly Autumn needed to re-establish themselves, and that's just what this new album does. Olivia Sparnenn nails the vocals from the very first note and delivers a performance that should silence all those who think the band was done after the departure of Heather Findlay. The entire album contains some outstanding solos from Bryan Josh, but Sparnenn and Iain Jennings really own this album. Jennings' keyboard work is sublime especially with King Of The Valley. I missed some beats with Drops Of The Sun, a really confusing track that doesn't belong on an album this good. Musically the album rocks hard and then pulls back onto rock even harder. Apart from King Of The Valley, the two tracks that really stand out are the ballad Notice and the finale of the album Top Of The World. This album belongs in everyone's collection.

Rating: ****
December 2012

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