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Tuesday 23 March 2021

Reviews: Liquid Tension Experiment, Draken, Grande Royale, Celestial Sanctuary (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Liquid Tension Experiment – 3 (Inside Out Music)

How to describe the third album by Liquid Tension Experiment? The supergroup that contains Mike Portnoy (Transatlantic, Sons Of Apollo), John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), and Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel). An utter wankfest of noodling self-indulgent exhibitionism – yep, that’s one way. But for those that fancy some progressive noodling and self-expression, played by some of the best musicians in the world, this may be an album to savour. What is certain is that it will divide opinion right down the middle.

Having formed in 1997, LTE quickly released their self-titled debut in 1998 and LTE2 in 1999. Their sound was dynamic, frantic, and utterly creative. And then other stuff happened. Mainly Dream Theater of course! It wasn’t until July 2020 that the four managed to get back in the same studio with the hope of rekindling the energy and chemistry of those early albums.

The first thing to say about LTE3 is that the musicianship is off the chart. These are the elite after all. And they have certainly gelled with over an hour of instrumental music that varies between the downright explosive to the more bizarre and all stops in between. LTE3 comprises four fully composed tracks, two duets, one on-the-fly jam and one meticulously arranged cover.

Opener Hypersonic was the last track to be written. It’s opening 30 seconds is almost unbelievable such is the frantic pace that erupts. It continues in a muscular workout for over eight minutes and if ever there was a song to prove these guys can still cut it, this is it. Beating The Odds that follows is described as the “feel good song of the pandemic” and has an upbeat style which branches out into a typically expansive jam. Liquid Evolution clocks in at the shortest track and is a calming three minutes, mellow and relaxing and ideally placed to calm the soul after the frantic first duo.

Things get heavier with The Passage of Time, Petrucci kicking out a fine riff which drives the song forward. Rudess’s thick keyboards duel with Petrucci’s barely controlled guitar work in a sonically structured musical battle. I don’t care for the avant-garde Portnoy/Levin duet Chris & Kevin's Amazing Odyssey which leads to the progressive arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. Known to millions, this explorative arrangement will no doubt get the progressive haters spinning because it is just so over the top. Full of pompous, overblown passages, you’ll either love it or hate. It’s sheer musical masturbation in its purest form. You can see the smiles on these guys as they cranked this one out.

This leaves us with the final duo. Shades Of Hope, recorded in one take, is a gentle, carefully crafted duet which allows Petrucci’s guitar to sing, accompanied by Rudess’s piano and sounds like the ghastly ballad type guff that Dream Theater churn out for James LaBrie to warble over. Key To The Imagination brings the album to a close, but not in any hurry. It’s 13 minutes long and possibly the greatest track on the album. A short solo gives way to a chunky riff which adds a darker feel, Portnoy’s always impressive drumming propelling the track before a break sees Petrucci hit the millionth soaring solo. We then get some symphonic backing as Rudess takes centre stage. The song ebbs and flows, back and fore with classic duelling, all the while carefully anchored by Levin and Portnoy’s solid engine room heroics.

So, there you have it. LTE3. Sonically stunning, crafted with a spontaneity that few can achieve. It may also be a throwback to the days when prog ruled the land, when gigs were eight weeks long and littered with as many solos as you could fit in. I’ve come to respect it during its residency. Is it something I’d reach for time and again? Probably not, but I can see those who love this having it on repeat. One for the individual. Take a trip, enjoy the ride, and see what you think. 7/10

Draken - Draken (Majestic Mountain Records)

Another day, another mightily impressive debut release. This time, it’s Draken, a progressive rock power trio from Norway.

Draken aren’t your typical progressive outfit, incorporating ample fuzzed up stoner vibes into their meandering compositions. There is plenty to explore on this wild voyage of discovery. The riotous Realm Of Silence opens the album in glorious form before the rolling and tumbling of Way Down Low kicks in, maintaining the momentum with huge riffs and a galloping feel.

The longer compositions such as (We Walk In) Circles and the ten-minute beast The Master which sprawls magnificently, grabbing slices of Thin Lizzy into its kaleidoscopic portrait, add to the pace of the album, a more measured but no less impactful duo of songs that bring a psychedelic element to proceedings. Digging into a wide variety of influences, the trio, Spidergawd/Orango bassist Hallvard Gaardløs, close friend Andre Drage and jazz/progressive virtuoso, Even Hermansen (Bushman’s Revenge) on guitar, deliver a compelling and versatile record that impresses on every level. 8/10

Grande Royale – Carry On (The Sign Records)

‘Does the world need any more foot stompin’ rock n roll that owes a debt to The Rolling Stones and The Black Crowes’ asked Matt, when reviewing Grande Royale’s 2019 release Take It Easy?

Well, regardless of what our esteemed editor felt, and he didn’t dislike Take It Easy, the Swedes have ploughed on, stripped back some of their sound and now present album number five, due for release on 26th March via The Sign Records. 11 tracks in just over 32 minutes should give you some idea of the speed, energy and attitude that comes at you on this album. It’s a back-to-basics release that would go down a storm at somewhere like Steelhouse Festival. It’s that type of high tempo wham, bam, thank you mam in your face stompers that works in the right environment. And that is likely to involve a beer or two!

The band, led by Gustav Wremer (vocals/guitar), have that classic Swedish rock n roll style that seems to come so natural to that part of the world. It’s a well performed and produced album, and you can take your pick of the songs because they all share the same dynamic drive and catchy hooks. Pick the title track, the pumping Ain’t Got Soul or the fist waving Troublemaker. They all do the same thing. Sing-along anthems like the Thin Lizzy styled Stayin’ Dry (Ideal Steelhouse anthem no? - Ed) are catchy and entertaining. It’s all good fun. Self-produced, with Robert Pehrsson helping with the mix, and they entertain Dregen (Hellacopters, Backyard Babies) for a guest vocal slot on Just As Bad As You. An album that would be the ideal theme tune to a raucous house party (remember them?), Carry On reeks of good times and at the moment that can’t be a bad thing. 7/10

Celestial Sanctuary - Soul Diminished (Church Road Records)

The UK is blessed with many solid death metal outfits. It’s likely that Celestial Sanctuary will soon be on the list as well for this debut release by the band formed in Cambridge in 2019 is a strong piece of work. 

Soul Diminished tells the story of a soul trapped in a vessel of a body, gaining consciousness. Over the course of the album, they become aware their sentience is a hell they must suffer as they realize their existence is predetermined and their fate already sealed by a disgusting, faceless entity.... a shapeless master. The being’s sanity deteriorates as they descend into madness. It’s clear from the ferocious riff of opening song Rid The Gormless that the band have absorbed plenty of old school influences but there is plenty of contemporary flavour contained within. Rid The Gormless is the perfect opener, nasty and feral, it ebbs and flows from thrashing pace to slower, riff heavy segments which rely on the intensity to slowly crush. 

There’s ample headbanging opportunity throughout. Relentless Savagery is well named, a pounding aural sense assault with a slicing guitar riff, dark growling vocals, and some punishing changes of tempo. It broods, pauses then smashes. Relentless indeed.With a message about the destructive nature of humankind, Celestial Sanctuary’s music fits neatly. Wretched Habits draws deep on old school death metal influences but with its own modern twist. As the album progresses, tracks such as Suffer Your Sentence, with its foreboding intro that spills into a grisly march, Yearn For Rot with its sinister, dark atmosphere and the blistering pace of Endless Chasm all get the head nodding in agreement.

This is a well rounded and played album with enough originality to allow it to stand proud on its own. The four band members, Tomas Cronin (Vocals & Guitar), James Burke (Drums), Jim Rutterford (Bass) and Matt Adnett (Guitar) look set to be a part of the UKDM scene for some time to come. 7/10

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