(All Album Reviews by Duncan Glenday)
Style : Neo Progressive Rock / Progressive Metal crossover
Rating : 3.5 / 5
Summary : If you're looking for good heavier-than-average neo progressive music - albeit somewhat derivative - then Thorns Of Anger is a good buy.
Jack (file under "J") Yello is the reincarnation of a 1990s mainstream German band, Jagiello (hence the odd name), and prog-rockers Darius. Although Thorns Of Anger is their debut release, it is clear that these are accomplished musicians.
Jack Yello is most often compared with Marillion, largely because of Dirk Bovensiepen's deliberately Fish-like vocals. And those vocals are at once the band's biggest strength, and weakness. The singing does not stand out as clearly as it does with Marillion, and there's a bit of an accent as well as small grammatical glitches in the lyrics.
The versatility and range and drama of the Fish sound is well known, so Jack Yello's music will certainly work for listeners new to neo-progressive rock, or who do not know Marillion.
But the rest of us can't help making critical comparisons, and try as he might, Bovensiepen is not Fish. He has a very good natural voice, and should exploit that.
The resemblance to Marillion is forgotten after two or three listens, because it is only the singing that evokes that comparison. The music is more complex, and the maturity of this quintet is apparent from the first note. (Okay - from the fourth bar. That opening choral a capella could be dispensed with.) Common to all good neo bands is great guitar work, and the standout musician in Jack Yello is guitarist Lutz Grosser. This guy is excellent, and produces some of the nicest guitar solos in the genre. Nothing earth shattering or particularly different, just an all-round great guitar sound.
The vocals are above average, but the instrumentals are out of the top drawer. The music is nicely varied, often developing wonderful walls-of-sound that are common to the best neo albums, and these long instrumental bridges save the album. Many of the instrumental passages are quite heavy, and have more in common with melodic metal than progressive rock. But listen for the complex meters, judicious changes of key, the layering and the textures.
"The Unknown Soldier" is by far the best track. It is an anti-war piece which begins with a soft keys and muted bass intro, followed by simple guitar played clean, with light reverb and long sustain. Enter the vocals, soft and expressive. Then - Fish starts singing. Strong, expressive, spitting out select phrases as only Fish can. (Uh-oh, this aint Marillion! Hit rewind, listen again. Yup, there's the accent the docks of war). Then the tension builds up with a crunchy metal accompaniment, and develops one of those big, wall-of-sound passages, culminating in one of the nicest guitar solos you'll hear this year. Fade back, and soft, melodramatic vocals build up slowly and yup, there's Fish again, and the full complement of instrumentals break in for the finale - although like most tracks on the album, there's a rather abrupt and unsatisfactory ending. This song alone is worth shelling out $10 on progrockrecords.com.
The wailing vocals in the introduction to "Take My Heart" could have been lifted straight from Arena's The Cry. (Remember "Help me! heeeelp me!!") And the closing one and a half minute piano-led ballad "Faces To Faces" is formulaic, but works well and is a nice epilogue. And then you realize that 80 is a lot of minutes, and your endurance has really been tested.
To their credit, the band takes pains to point out that no sampler or sequencer was used in the production of this album, which will appeal to purists. There's a fair amount of overdubbing though, particularly with the vocals. All in all it is a very polished production. The album's sleeve says "play it loud and with the lights off". They're right, that works well.
Jack Yello. Funny name. Good band.