The Word of Life - Dust. 1995 Sweden

The Word of Life return with their sophomore, and ultimately last effort, Dust which is somewhat different from the predecessor. There's more variety within the compositions, and is overall more song based and less jam oriented. It appears the album tries to please on a number of fronts. When I Was in Space opens (on the CD version that is) auspiciously with its oscillator-emulated synthesizer runs and heavy percussion cadence. As with Further Ahead, there's an amalgamation of psychedelic styles ranging from roaring space rock to folk. And flute meets fuzz continues to be a predominant instrumental theme. The lyrical songs on this album have a sort of retro lounge naïve melody line motif which I find oddly appealing (like on Flying, Up Here, and Love You). No doubt there are plenty of sizzling guitar jams to bang your head to, just a few less than the admittedly more ambitious debut.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Subliminal Sounds

The original was an LP only release on Xotic Mind, which was the precursor to Subliminal Sounds. As with the debut, the CD has a different track order than the original LP (and in this case features 3 bonus tracks).

The Word of Life - Further Ahead. 1992 Sweden

For a short period in the early to mid 1990's, a collective of Swedish musicians decided to relive the past and pushed on with creating improvisational psychedelic rock music similar to the early 70's masters such as International Harvester and Algarnas Tradgard. Local acts such as S.T. Mikael, Adam, Stefan, and The Entheogens all recorded for the underground label Xotic Mind during this era. The primary difference between the modern day purveyors and the 1970's masters is the one-dimensional nature of the proceedings. This trait can be attributed to the fact that most of these albums are solo projects with guest musicians, rather than cohesive band units.

One of the highlights on the label were The Word of Life, a band lead by Mans P. Mansson, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, sitar, synthesizers, percussion, as well as taking on vocal duties. He is joined by many guests, though most important is the fine flute work provided by Anna Nystom. On the debut Further Ahead, Mansson manages to create a varied improvisational psychedelic album. Long burning jams such as 'Space Fu?king' and 'Can You Feel It - Flowing Free' are offset by calm flute and hand percussion ragas like 'The Devil'. What one notices with repeated listens is the need for a judicious editor (a problem for many solo ventures). Most of the jams meander on for far too long and the inclusion of a couple of Earthy-Country-Bumpkin vocal tracks with Louisiana-front-porch harmonica are in complete contrast to the hazy heady cosmic aspirations the album aspires to be. All the same, the album works on many levels, most notably the trance-like jams, which can get quite intense as they penetrate. The guitar tone is super-fuzz-loud and the percussion is particularly active (always a good sign). Recommended for all fans of Krautrock, space rock, and the early 70s Swedish pioneer groups as mentioned above.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Satori (UK)

The Word of Life is a group I've known about since their inception. I first purchased Further Ahead on LP (top photo), which featured a paste-on cover. I sold it once I obtained the CD (second photo). I'm not entirely convinced the CD is from 1992, but that's the date appended on all the online discographies. The CD itself doesn't list a date, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out it came out a few years later (I think I would have purchased the CD initially rather than the LP if that was the case).

Spyros adds: "It is strange to think that Mans P. Mansson played in metal bands (he even guested on Candlemass recordings). The CD of "Further Ahead" came later than the LP. Must be late 1993 or early 1994, because that was when I saw it first time at a very updated local psych record store. I remember it puzzled me that it had a different cover to the LP, which I owned upon it's release..."

Under the Dome - Wot No Colin? 2003 England

Wot No Colin?, which came near the end of Under the Dome's recording career, is a high energy sequencer fest with some very fine electric guitar leads. If you drew a straight line from Tangerine Dream’s Encore to Pergamon, rather than traverse through the rock era that was Cyclone and Force Majeure, you would encounter this particular Under the Dome album. Fitting then, that this is a live album too. Look for some unexpected experimental sections with heavy echo on the sequences. Under the Dome were one of the best of the retro EM bands coming from England during this time, and Wot No Colin? is a good representation as to why.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 Neu Harmony

P. P. Zahl - Alle Türen Offen. 1978 Germany

German polit-rock albums are typically a tough minefield to navigate. From the punk angst of Checkpoint Charlie to the theatrical Floh de Cologne to the earnest Ton Steine Scherben and onto the always changing Oktober, all these bands are a challenging listen. The German language is much welcomed, though the meaning is lost on me. P.P. Zahl are closer to the Oktober recipe (and apparently related as well), and that’s a good thing for those who are going more for the music than the lyrical component. Other than the usual rock instruments, a distinctly Spanish acoustic guitar makes numerous appearances. Fellow German language compatriots Novalis seem to also have played an influence, primarily the spacey texture of sound. And Minotaurus comes to mind on the synth bits. Picked up some counterpoint ala Gentle Giant on Side 2. One of the best for the style. Named after poet Peter Paul Zahl.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Antagon

Originals come in a nice gatefold cover. No reissues exists as I write this.

Orne - The Tree of Life. 2011 Finland

I haven't heard Orne's debut, so we'll dig right into their second The Tree of Life. Orne are yet another retro prog band on Black Widow. And honestly, at least from my viewpoint, you really can't have too many of those. In some ways, Orne are really like a 1970 band from the United Kingdom. That is, it can be a bit dirgy and slow. The English vocals are a bit flat, and not sure they're entirely necessary to be honest. On the plus side, the all analog instrumentation (though they cheat and use a Memotron rather than an actual Mellotron) is much welcomed, and includes some lovely Hammond B3 and flute, and that will always warm the cockles of my heart. Plenty of fine guitars leads as well, with the appropriate effects on display. But one does hope for a good meter break - the moment that transcends the composition to another level. Even Pink Floyd did that from time to time, at least through their Meddle era. Orne is an offshoot group to the doom metal band Reverend Bizarre, who I've not heard prior. I'm a casual listener to the doom metal genre (for example, I have all the Candlemass albums, and a handful of others from the genre - and of course I know Black Sabbath inside and out), but it's not something I've done a deep dive on. Some doom metal can be excruciatingly slow and monolithic. And there's some of that kind of pacing here as well. It's a style thing, but I prefer a bit more kinetic energy. All that said, I hear plenty here to a) recommend to fans of the old Vertigo Swirl bands (Still Life comes to mind in particular) and b) they clearly have the talent to release a more dynamic album. I also credit Orne for not falling into the typical Stoner Rock traps (90's styled metal slabs for example), that many bands of their background tend to do. Let's see if this project continues, and what they do with it.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Black Widow (Italy)

Tonton Macoute - s/t. 1971 England

Tonton Macoute was the name of Papa Doc Duvalier's private military force in Haiti, loyal to his rule. They brought forth a reign of terror that paralyzed the island state with its systematic violence. With such a menacing moniker, one would presume Tonton Macoute to be a heavy and sinister rock band. Quite the opposite. Their sole album is a proto-progressive jazz rock affair, similar to other UK artists of the day like Raw Material and Diabolus - though more instrumental than either. The album features one brilliant flute driven composition in 'Flying South for the Winter'. Other classic tracks include 'Don't Make Me Cry' and 'Natural High' Parts I and II. Only misstep is 'You Make My Jelly Roll'. I don't know what "campfire prog*" is, but if Tonton Macoute is its representative, then consider me a fan of this sub-genre!

* - A "reviewer" on RYM uses this term often as a pejorative.

Personal collection
LP: 2001 Akarma (Italy)
CD: 2010 Air Mail (Japan)

Lady Lake - SuperCleanDreamMachine. 2005 Netherlands

Lady Lake's comeback album is how all such reunions should be. No nods to modern music such as techno or heavy metal. No attempts at trying to win over a radio friendly audience. No overt plagiarist 1970s sound. Nope, Lady Lake pretty much picked up where they left off on No Pictures and recorded a new album in a similar style. Sure, it sounds like it was done in 2005 rather than the late 70s, just as it should be (though there's plenty of tasty Hammond and real mellotron here). Lady Lake play a type of music that is difficult to get right, since it's almost entirely built on melodic structure. Similar to like minded bands such as Camel and Sebastian Hardie. There are no sophisticated arrangements, fancy time signatures, or long jams. So if the music quite simply isn't appealing from a melodic perspective, it's going to be a yawn fest. As most are in this genre, truthfully. But Lady Lake is that special band that transcends the scene and the group hasn't lost their magic touch one bit. Maybe not the classic No Pictures is, but an excellent reunion, one of the best I've heard.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Musea (France)

['ramp] / Ramp - Frozen Radios. 2000 Germany

Frozen Radios begins to demonstrate that ['ramp] have a penchant for the dark ambient sounds of Klaus Schulze's Cyborg or Tangerine Dream's Zeit. On the back cover, they inform us to "File Under: Electronic Industrial Ambient". And that's quite accurate, except the sequencers are still going full bore here, so you're never too far from the friendly confines of the Berlin School. Another highly recommended album for fans of the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2000 private

Ramp - Nodular. 1998 Germany

Regular readers of the CDRWL know that I'm quite fond of the Berlin School of electronic music as founded by Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. Atmospheric keyboards that give way to blazing sequencers, choral mellotron tapes (likely sampled in Ramp's case), and melodic synthesizer lines (and even better if there's guitar which Ramp unfortunately doesn't employ) will blow me away every time. Instant mental movie soundtrack music. Ramp were part of the original renaissance of the movement that gained quite a bit of traction in the late 1990s (especially in the UK and The Netherlands) with Radio Massacre International, AirSculpture, and Redshift leading the charge. Ramp were rare in that they were from the namesake country. Certainly Germany had support of the style within, but mainly from various individual synthesists like Bernd Kistenmacher and Mario Schonwalder (and owner of the influential Manikin label). So Ramp were indeed unique given they were a group effort.

Ramp originally started as a trio, and the synchronicity of ideas is apparent. There were (and are) a ton of solo electronic musicians, but many of those sound monolithic to these ears. The best acts, like the ones I mentioned above, feature at least 3 performers if not more. Later, the band changed their sound to what they call "doombient" which I hope to hear one day as well, though I'm not entirely convinced it's a style I'll embrace. Hardcore EM followers no doubt are already very familiar with Ramp.

The lineup on Nodular is:
Frank Makowski: sampling, sequencing, electronics, loops
Stephen Parsick: electronics, sequencing, rhythm programming
Lambert Ringlage: electronics, micro composers, tapes
Martina Fantar: voice on "before the storm"

Martina's atmospheric voice is positively enchanting in this setting.

All the tracks are good, but the 19 minute 'Phasenverzerrung' is absolutely brilliant. If it doesn't lay you out on the first try, then there's a better than average chance this style isn't for you.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Manikin

Siniaalto - Tallentumia. 2004 Finland

Tallentumia is Siniaalto's second album, and represents a unique twist on the retro electronic sound. There are some Berlin School sequences of course, but more emphasis is paid on atmospheric keys, including novelties for the genre like processed Fender Rhodes. It’s as if Siniaalto wanted to explore every avenue from Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra album, to the point of exhaustion perhaps. Many sections go for long periods of time, making this not one of the easier electronic albums to digest in one setting. All the same, a strong entry for the genre, if a bit different.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 If Society

Siniaalto - s/t. 2002 Finland

Finnish trio Siniaalto (Sine Wave) can trace their musical heritage back to an earlier electronic music era, primarily Tangerine Dream circa Phaedra. A full array of keyboards, both analog and digital, are on display here. Though it’s the good old Rhodes piano, heavily echoed and treated, that truly gives their debut album an early 1970s feel. I could swear there is a Mini-Moog in play as well, but it’s not listed. The general modus operandi for each composition is to start out by creating a dark atmosphere followed by a plodding, low pitched, sequence. This is then followed by the group adding a series of alien sounds, of which the most notable is the treated Rhodes piano as mentioned prior. There are only four tracks, clocking in at close to an hour, so plenty of room for meditative listening. A good start from a promising band in the ever increasing fold of groups performing in the Berlin School style of electronic music.

Personal Collection
CD: 2002 If Society

The Word of Life - Dust. 1995 Sweden

The Word of Life return with their sophomore, and ultimately last effort, Dust which is somewhat different from the predecessor. There'...