Remember The Magical Mystery Tour? The idea was for The Beatles to hire a psychedelic coach, fill it with strange people, and drive around Britain filming whatever came into their heads.
Having been inspired by that, Eurorock is taking a similar ride around some interesting European releases, albeit forty years late. So roll up for a ride delivered in a If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium approach from the film a year later.
We have prog-metal, eighties style metal, Floyd inspired prog, Scotland’s mysterious Phantom Band’s brilliant debut, and the most wonderful of psychedelic space trip albums imaginable. So join me and get absorbed within the diversity that European music can bring.
In no particular order, geographic or otherwise, it's A Magical Mystery Tour indeed.
Shadow’s Mignon – Midnight Sky Masquerade
First stop is Germany, and the home of Henning Pauly who came to notice through his work with Frameshift and Chain. For the Shadow’s Mignon project he again teams up with vocalist Juan Roos who also appears on one of Pauly’s earlier albums Credit Where Credit Is Due. That record explored nu-metal combining it with explorations into industrial territory.
In fact, Pauly is a busy man and his musical journeys have seen him go punk on Greatest Hits with The Anthologies, writing a rock opera called Babysteps and working with country musician Matt Cash on his album Western Country. Having heard some classic eighties metal he teamed up with Juan Roos and keyboard player Stephan Kernbach and formed Shadow’s Mignon. He then set about writing a set of metal influenced tracks for an album.
Pauly explains on the promo blurb, "We were able to do so many things and use so many sounds we are told we ‘can’t use anymore’ because they are out of date. So we went back to our roots and made music that cannot live without them". Defiantly they have come up with an album that delivers an assault of metal that unashamedly powers in with “A Dragon Shall Come”.
In many ways it all seems a little tongue in cheek as it pays powerful homage to eighties metal. It is, however, almost as authentic as some of the real thing was complete with some dodgy lyrics of warriors, battle Gods, beasts, and dragons. Having said that, if you take the lyrics as they are hopefully intended and concentrate on the essential energy of the musicianship, then it scores reasonably well.
Several ballads such as “Goodnight Boston” supply some breathing space in the 72 minute set. In all it’s a romp through eighties metal-land and proves again that the musical mind of Henning Pauly always manages to absorb the essence of what he is currently inspired by before taking it a step beyond. When it ends it is almost a shock to look out of the window and remember that it is in fact 2009.
Forgotten Suns – Innergy
We’re speeding off to Portugal now for a listen to Forgotten Suns and their album Innergy. It kicks off with a scene from an emergency theatre where someone’s life hangs in the balance and opens out into the full scale power riff that sits behind “Flashback”. An impressive start.
First thing to note is that today’s Forgotten Suns has changed dramatically since their 2000 debut. Previously the band was endlessly compared to the likes of Pink Floyd, Rush, and Marillion. Certainly there was a strong influence of a whole cross section of the above spliced in with symphonic prog. It led to them supporting Fish, The Flower Kings, and Pain Of Salvation among others.
Innergy, apparently a hybrid of ‘energy’ and ‘inner’, delivers a power romp through prog metal with all the necessary solos and impressive vocals to make for an impressively hard driven album. The constantly shifting “News” leads to the initial riff of “Doppelganger”. This is a hybrid of numerous elements including something of the Germanic suggested within the title. It all slots together and somehow works.
The defiantly prog “An Outer Body Experience” is something else again, staking its claim for album highlight. “Outside In”, “Nanoworld” are huge in scale and ambition. “Mind Over Matter” closes with another voice over introduction and a track that ends the album on a high. It’s a great moment when it opens out.
Despite sometimes being in danger of risking repetitiveness it is also an album that deserves several plays to fully appreciate it. That sounds contradictory but it does begin, with familiarity, to open out and is therefore worthy of several plays. More driven and purposeful than previous Forgotten Suns efforts Midnight Sky Masquerade can also be seen as being adventurous and ambitious. In many ways they pull it off, in others they fire close to the target.
Metamorphosis – Dark
Heading back across Europe to beautiful Switzerland we call in on Metamorphosis the musical creation of multi-instrumentalist Jean-Pierre Schenk. This is the fourth album since 2002 and follows on from the debut After All These Years, Nobody Cares (2003), and Then All Was Silent (2005).
Heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, Dark sees Schenk taking a step to the side and injecting more of himself into an album that is all the stronger for it. Dark, likes its title, ventures into some troubled landscapes that are written around some engaging melodies and sound musicianship.
There are still obvious nods to Floyd which I am sure many reviewers will pick up on but this release represents a definite step forward in terms of its individual identity. The opening of “The Fight Is Over” introduces both viewpoints well. “Hey Man” stands out and represents just how the ideas of Jean-Pierre are busy developing. A lovely acoustic start to “I’m Waking Up” introduces a song that when it finally ignites begins to hit home.
For me, “Knowing All I Do Is Worth Nothing” is a track strong enough to dispel the fears within its title. It’s dark and moody, and sits elegantly mid set, succeeding in further drawing you in. “You” links in excellently, and convinces that this is an album to return to again. “Where Do We Go From Here” shifts and switches before leading to the closing Floyd like vibe of the title track.
More of their own character, as revealed on this album, will serve the band nicely in the future.
Oresund Space Collective – Good Planets Are Hard To Find
Next we are heading north to Malmo in Sweden. In reality we are going to travel a lot further than that. When I reviewed one of the Oresund Space Collective’s four previous albums, The Black Tomato, I sounded like some ageing hippy with a touch too much of the magic sparkly cube still in my head.
Maybe it is time that I left it all behind and finally accept the fact that I am not a member of Gong. Sounds easy doesn't it? That is until Good Planets Are Hard To Find landed literally on my mat.
Suddenly this coach trip around Europe is taking on the feel of The Magical Mystery Tour after all. This is especially the case with the wonderful sitar drenched opening of the title track. The improvisational magic and trippy majesty of the Oresund Space Collective just has to be experienced to be believed.
Taking the ‘collective’ philosophy to its conclusion the album was recorded with the addition of many new members who had never worked with the band before. Chemistry is clearly as strong as ever these days and the result is a cosmic joy on every level.
KG of Siena Root adds that supremely effective sitar whilst Steve Hayes (Secret Saucer) mixes it up having been given free reign by the band to do whatever he wanted.
Defying any accurate description Good Planets Are Hard To Find is a trip through space, a musical out of body experience, or any other cliché you want to add. Lie back, and float off. The only problem is in the effort needed to actually get yourself back into the drabness of your everyday working life. The real world does look a lot greyer after such an interstellar journey.
Don’t play it on the London Underground’s Circle Line for fear of seeing the same stations several times over, it is that addictive. Instead lie on the floor, surround yourself with imagery of colourful Hindu Gods, dancing hippies, and psychedelic Deadhead posters, and just go with it. Don’t forget to come back though.
Good Planets (may be) Hard To Find but bands this addictive are much harder, trust me.
The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage
Back in the UK we arrive in Glasgow for a look at the mysterious Phantom Band. This is Scotland’s own version and not to be confused with an earlier namesakes.
Log on to their MySpace page and you will be met by a picture of the band splendidly regaled in medieval suits of armour. Look a little more closely and the observant amongst us notice that they are standing beneath a road sign pointing the way to Glasgow, Hamilton, Dundee, and Aberdeen.
This album is an exceptional debut, a must have, a genre defying enticing intoxication that you will find hard to resist. Having said that it defies categorisation, I have to attempt, for the sake of anyone who hasn’t yet heard it, to give it some form.
So here goes:- It’s an intriguing, mindbogglingly creepy ménage of indie, blues, folk, pop, post-punk, and rock.
Checkmate Savage has eerie choruses, experimentation that defies logic, and is in short an exceptionally off beat yet hugely satisfying album. It is distinctly odd ball, in a compulsively addictive way, and totally defies convention. That is what makes it special of course.
This is a work of unique and genuinely twisted near-genius. Again it is the headphone scenario that really draws out its many qualities. This is one for your MP3 player to be played when you really want to go someplace else after a bad day at the office.
If you really need to recover from such a day I prescribe “The Island” or "Left Hand Wave". If they don’t ignite the imagination then I’m afraid there’s little hope for you.
The scene is set from the outset with “The Howling”. The darkness of “Burial Sounds” hooks you deeply before the driving “Folk Song Oblivion” begins to lay any lingering resistance to rest. Somehow it all just soaks into your subconscious and by the time “Crocodile” assaults the senses said resistance is futile.
The curious mix of styles that weaves it’s magic to form “Left Hand Wave” soothes the way towards the album’s centrepiece “The Island”. It arrives almost unexpectedly and proves that you simply can’t double guess The Phantom Band. Its hymnal qualities provide nearly nine minutes of comparatively straight brilliance.
The excellent intro to “Throwing Bones” launches a track with more unexpected twists than a highland road. “The Whole Is On My Side” brings the strange journey to an end leaving you feeling somewhat bemused and yet strangely satisfied in equal measure. It is rather like a late night film that you don’t quite understand and yet you can’t bring yourself to switch off for fear of missing the next scene.
Checkmate Savage is in danger of failing to escape from Glasgow and is an album that is more than worthy of a far wider attention. I just can’t stop playing the damn thing.
There we have it, a whole range of diversity to delve into. I hope you enjoyed this jolly jaunt through the landscape of European music. Thanks for reading. Please follow the links in each article for more information on whatever takes your fancy.Powered by Sidelines