Stephan Forte: The Shadows Compendium

© Perrine Perez Fuentes.

To be honest The RR is not one to offer up time for indulgence and music that ultimately is just showing off no matter the skill and undoubted talent on show.  No matter the ability and sound guitar led instrument rock generally seems to end up long winded and over played to levels that has lost our focus long before. Now that is our preference and possible lost but that is how the land and personal taste lies. Just sometimes though to reinforce the ethic of still checking things out before assuming there is a release that steps away from past history to offer something different and intriguing. Such is the case with The Shadows Compendium from French guitar maestro Stéphan Forté. The album still steps into areas that push our limits but it is impossible to deny the stunning and impressive sounds and creativity within its vibrant walls.

Stéphan Forté first drew attention his way with his first instrumental demo Visions of 1997, the neoclassical-oriented sounds soon bringing him to the notice of the guitar community. The following year saw him opening for Yngwie Malmsteen and more sponsors, endorsements and industry attention accumulating. 2001 saw the first Adagio album, a band of musicians he recruited to help realise his compositions. Sanctus Ignis drew further acclaim in his homeland and further afield as did the following darker and orchestral/ choral powered Underworld of 2003. After a further two albums Dominate and Archangels In Black and well received concerts and tours, Forté decided to stretch and push his own musical limits which has become the solo project The Shadows Compendium. Three years in the making the album is an intense, diverse and deep exploration that is musically astonishing.

Forté takes influences ranging from Bartok to Meshuggah, twisting his play and sounds in ways and into shapes no lesser mortal can imagine let alone produce. It really is hard to state how powerful and uniquely distinct the music and ability within the compositions are; only the ear can give true representation. From the opening title track and its dark atmospheric intro the album never ventures into predictable even if at times the expected rears its lengthy head. With tower high riffs and melodies that scorch the ear Forté mesmerises with his string play and caresses with wonderful piano expertise. The piece buzzes around the ear at times constantly insistent and eager before making way for truly inspired work from the composer. An array of guests feature on the album with Jeff Loomis of Nevermore aiding here though for these ears which parts he or the others add elude against the mastery of Forté, and these are talented guys.

The aggressive intense metal fuelled elements connect the deepest with these tastes but there is no doubting there is plenty for rock fans of all preferences on The Shadows Compendium. Tracks like the senses twisting De Praestigiis Daemonu with guest Mattias IA Eklundh of Freak Kitchen and the provocative probing of Duat with Glen Drover of Megadeth leave the ear and beyond happy but exhausted. These are power driven though never are the intricacies and elaborate melodies and ideas left to the side. Spiritual Bliss and Prophecies Of Loki XXI dazzle with a lighter but no less staggering manipulation and control of notes, harmonies and any other musical aspect you can imagine from Forté.

The Shadows Compendium is immense and any musician and especially guitarists will have wet dreams over the album. Personal taste stops it being an album to return to often, at times parts are still overblown and overlong, and dare one say even Forté treads the fine line of indulgence. Then again should it not be that way, the man is a genius whom very few can touch, and it would be crazy to keep such flair and ability restrained. If you want to hear an artist make his guitar squeal and sing with a technique and skill that any woman would pay to feel then Stéphan Forté is your first destination.

RingMaster 21/02/2012

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Rendezvous – Another Round Please

Vibrant and rich in brightly lit melodies the new album from Israeli duo Rendezvous mesmerises and tantalises with well crafted sounds that form a weave of electronic finesse and refined creativity. The eagerly awaited Another Round Please will not disappoint with its blend of classic synth and progressive melodic flows wrapped in a chilled yet expressive collection of electro expanses.

The pair of Itai Simon and Hagai Izenberg release their album via Rough Trade / Moot Records on the back of their recent single The Murf which reached number 5 in the UK club charts. The impressive video that backed up the song gathered over 150,000+ views online in a matter of weeks, the combination inspiring a sure anticipation for Another Round Please. Mixed by legendary producer Dave Bascombe (Kylie Minogue, Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears) the album is a kaleidoscope of dazzling sounds that sweep through the ear to invite and incite imagery and feelings. With what are undemanding but intriguing and thoughtful sounds it is a blend that finds a welcome home within the ear.

Another Round Please is actually surprising in its light and glowing sounds due to the fact that a large amount of the albums tracks were recorded during the “second Lebanon war”. With neighbouring cities and towns feeling the destructive might of Hezbollah missiles and a mere few miles away from the duo Israeli planes dropping bombs on Lebanon it would have been expected that the music reflected and was affected by it. Despite that though the album removes itself from the background it found itself created in and other than the presence of obvious shadows within tracks like the darker toned Prisoner No. 251, the tense and dramatic Hands Up, and the fractured melodic laced emotive End of The World, the release offers positives, hope and vibrant light.

From the dazzling crystalline melodies of opener C Sharp the album is a compelling release which admittedly across its length does at times rely on a familiarity and similarity within its compositions but is always thoroughly intriguing and inviting. Adagio For Tiesto is a strong example, through its well drawn travel the piece does not step into any avenues of distinct ingenuity but constantly winks and flutters its creative eyes. It is suggestive as it slowly unveils its charms to eventually and slowly evolve into a climax that is dramatic, stirring and elegant.

The wonderful soundscape of Egypt is the highlight of the album, vast and sweeping it takes one across warm addictive sands immersing into an ever expanding majesty and visualisation within the mind. This is closely followed by the exuberant Blues In Space, a track infectious in rhythm and engaging in melodies. It offers a sound that is very recognisable and feels like one of those glorious soundtracks to an eighties sci-fi movie. This only adds to the fun and makes it a friend to play with often.

Rendezvous has created an album in Another Round Please that does nothing less than satisfy and place a smile on the face. Whether it does any more than that is debateable and will depend on personal preferences, but for 46 odd minutes it certainly gives a warm glow.

RingMaster 21/02/2012

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Toy Horses – Toy Horses

There has been a lot of fuss over and feverish acclaim sent the way of Welsh duo Toy Horses ever since their early demos hit the internet in 2010. Those early songs took no time in becoming a constantly growing success that led to national and international radio play. The insightful melody lined and expressive uncluttered tunes the pair created rode a word of mouth wave that without any real self promotion from the band itself, took them to the ears and close attention of fans and media both sides of the pond. As things led to other things and more opportunities the stepfather-stepson duo Adam D Franklin and Tom Williams found themselves the attention of US radio guru Nic Harcourt who invited the band to perform at his SXSW showcase. Proclaiming them his highlight of the festival Harcourt then had the pair perform his KCRW radio show in LA. This led to Ken Coomer (Wilco) becoming aware of them and to be another to fall to their impressive indie charm. He contacted the band personally offering to produce their debut album which was subsequently recorded in Nashville and released in the summer of 2011.

The self titled collection of ten assured and vibrant tunes is re-released as a luxury edition on February 27th and will surely sweep up many more eager followers which it missed the first time around with its captivating melodies alongside expressive lyrics and emotions. From the opening Play What You Want it is easy to see why so many have taken the release and band to their hearts. There is an openness to the songs in word and sound that simply endears itself far beyond the ear. The first song alone is an infectious tease with an air of mischief about it. It is a little romp across the senses tempered by the lyrics personal plea.

Every song within the album is crafted with love and attention, each obviously thought over and though some do not quite grab with the depth of others it is something relative to the individual which is which. The use of piano and strings in And It Was You and in the wonderful closing track Interrupt offer a depth and extra emotive touch that most bands either neglect or do not imagine showing the intelligent ideas Toy Horses give to their sound.

It is when the pair lift up the tempo and pulse rate that they really excel with an extra flair that marks them for big things. The brilliant Damage Done has a siren like appeal and within moments one is mesmerised by the pulsating keys and minimal rhythms behind the vocals. If ever the term less is more was more proven it is on this song. Matching its flair are the equally impressive Loyal To The Cause and No Ones Gonna Leave You. The first of the two reminds of eighties band The Bluebells with its incisive and irresistible melody whilst the other and best song on the album, has a feisty nip to it reminding a little of the likes of Babyshambles. It comes with a little more attitude and offers an energetic rockabilly like vein throughout that sparks. Across the release the songs generally have a sixties feel at times bringing a kind of Kinks/Beatles like essence which works nicely but it is with the sounds and tunes that have this bite or raising of intensity that the album is at its best.

Toy Horses the band and album is refreshing. The duo write songs that are instinctive and heart warming but with an eager wicked glint in the eye. It is clear why the band garnered such a response to their sounds so far and though this album does not quite blow us away it indicates it is merely a question of time.

RingMaster 21/02/2012

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