I hate to say it, but I feel that Emma Gillespie's imagination must be somewhat limited, going by her sole album to date, although we shouldn't expect a lot more of someone who came to the public's attention via a Sky TV talent contest. It's one of those wispy 'couple of tracks would be perfectly acceptable' releases, but a whole album of this kind of mournful introspection, even one this short, quickly loses its appeal. Emma's lack of imagination. Claes Björklund's 'Mellotron' turns out to be no more than the faintest-of-faint, vaguely Mellotronic strings on closer Keep.
Like many progressive musicians born at the wrong time, Gert Emmens has had to wait a while to get the career he's presumably always wanted. After a mainstream pop album in 1995, his first EM album, 1999's Elektra (Emmens was already over forty by this point), was a surprisingly proggy effort, consisting largely of structured material full of key changes, multiple parts and all the other prog paraphernalia, although nothing that sounds like a Mellotron.
Unfortunately, his first samplotron effort, 2001's Asteroids (a CD-R release, I believe), backs away slightly from this approach, although it's still far more structured than many electronic albums I've heard, Pallas possibly being the best thing here. Emmens uses his Mellotron samples with taste, refusing to overdo it, sticking choirs on pretty much every track, plus strings on Geographos, very obviously sampled. 2003's Wanderer of Time drops back into the groove, the title track and closer The Voyage Of Voyager I notably being 'electronic prog' rather than semi-improvisational EM. Most of the samplotron work here is choirs (sometimes running over the eight-second limit), with the occasional slightly ropey string part.
Unfortunately, I seem to be hitting my EM tolerance limit around now, as Emmens' second album of 2003, Obscure Movements in Twilight Shades, strikes me as merely more of the same. Yes, a load of work has gone into it, compositionally and in the playing/recording, but it just sounds like... another EM album. Sorry. I'm not sure I'm ever really going to understand this stuff, although this album's perfectly pleasant and every bit as good as its predecessors, with the usual amounts of fake 'Tron. 2004's Live: A Long Way From Home, is possibly the most 'studio'-sounding live album I've ever heard (and yes, that includes Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East). Seriously, you would have absolutely no idea this was live if it didn't say so in the title. Not all that much fakeotron, actually, with choirs on maybe three tracks, but not one of Mr. Emmens' more major nearlytron works.
Waves of Dreams, from later the same year, expands the envelope slightly, with a soprano voice on the title track being the one thing that makes it stand out from its predecessors. Loads of sampled choir, with strings added here and there, just for a change. The following year's When Darkness Falls Upon the Earth is (within EM limits, of course) a more 'commercial' album than its predecessors in some ways, its early tracks only needing a couple of tweaks in the percussive department to turn them into chill-out classics. The whole thing's vastly overlong, of course, but who wants a 'vinyl length' EM album these days, eh? Me, actually, but there you go. Thin on the fakeotron again, with naught but distant choirs on a couple of tracks, but a decent effort all round.
But what's happened on 2006's The Tale of the Warlock? Is it just me, or has Emmens lost his mojo? I'm having trouble putting my finger on the problem, but it sounds like he's simply allowed the sequencers to run themselves, the end result sounding completely by-numbers, even in a fairly by-numbers genre, not to mention the near-techno feel to a couple of tracks (dodgy ground, there...). A fairly typical level of samplotron choir and strings, but I wouldn't recommend this as your first port of call for Mr. Emmens. The following year's A Boy's World isn't much better, or have I finally reached my EM limit? It seems to me that you've got to be a serious fan of this kind of stuff to get very excited about anything that isn't jaw-droppingly good and frankly, this isn't jaw-droppingly good. Totally competent, completely professional, but all a bit uninspired, at least to my ears. Even less samplotron than before, with naught but a few background choir and string parts here and there for our edification.
Things get no better on the first part of Emmens' The Nearest Faraway Place trilogy; most of its contents have (of all things) a slightly MOR bent, chord sequences just that bit too 'sweet' for comfort. In total contrast, Vol. 2 is possibly Emmens' best album. Why, when it consists of exactly the same kind of blips and drones as all his previous releases? Impossible to say; for this listener, his influences all come together at their best here, in an irritatingly indefinable way, not to mention the 'original feature' of a woman's voice speaking French on Part 13. Reasonable levels of sampotron, too, the most major use being the full-on strings on Part 10. Vol. 3 falls somewhere between the previous two volumes, being, essentially, just another Gert Emmens album, although the sequencer patterns on Part 17 are particularly good and we get some interesting vocoder work on the relatively brief Part 21. Usual old samplotron stuff, barely worth mentioning.
Alongside his solo works, noted Dutch synthesist Gert Emmens (above) has also produced a handful of albums with Ruud Heij, the first of which, 2004's Return to the Origin, has similarities with Emmens' solo work, but is a rather darker proposition all round, at least to my ears. Not that much samplotron, either, its chief use being the major string part on closer So Long. More Klaus, less Tangs. The following year's Blind Watchers of a Vanishing Night is recorded live, with all audience reaction removed. It starts well, with the opening title track (incidentally, one of the best pieces from this genre I've heard for a while), although the three-quarter-hour A Journey Through Time is possibly pushing it a little. More fakeotron than before, with choirs all over the title track, choirs and strings on A Journey Through Time and bits on the rest of the album.
2007's Journey doesn't differ significantly from its predecessors, making it a highly competent yet somewhat unoriginal EM albums. More samplotron than before, mostly choirs, with a couple of strong string parts. The following year's Silent Witnesses of Industrial Landscapes is, sadly, less industrial (in a real, not Ministry-esque sense) than I'd hoped, although Heij's darker influences remain at the fore. Unfortunately, Setting The Wheels In Motion features a four-note sequence that reminds me of The Jam's Eton Rifles, albeit in an entirely different context; I rather doubt whether the duo realised. As before, higher levels of samplotron, although it's all fairly obvious.
Emmerhoff & the Melancholy Babies are a Norwegian indie/psych outfit, whose second (?) album, 2005's Electric Reverie, is one of those infuriating releases that could be really good, but isn't. It certainly has its moments - Into The Black, Towards The Within takes the prize for 'most psych track on the album', complete with Leslied vocals - but too much of it wallows around in the indie shallows, not to mention that it's probably ten minutes too long for its own good. Jørgen Træen plays 'Mellotron', with squeaky string lines on opener Meltdown and Major/Minor and regular strings on Into The Black, Towards The Within, although I find it highly unlikely, from the sound of it, that they actually sourced a real machine. So; an album with definite moments, but too few of them to make it particularly worth your while.
Val Emmich (a geezer, in case you were wondering) is a modern indie singer-songwriterly type with a vaguely punky edge, displayed on a couple of tracks on his first full-length album, Slow Down Kid. Confusingly, the album first appeared in 2002 on Childlike records with a different sleeve and tracklisting, being reissued the following year on Red Ink (an Epic subsidiary), the version reviewed here. Now, far be it from me to lay into something with a twenty-pound sledgehammer (what, me?), but this is truly awful, from the unimaginative, sub-sub-Velvets rhythm guitar work to Emmich's largely wispy vocals, doubtless relaying messages of great portent, or possibly merely whining on about his shit life. Actually, mate, you've just made mine slightly worse, too, as I've now spent a thankfully relatively brief thirty-five minutes listening to your dreadful record.
Emmich and Wayne Dorell allegedly play Mellotron, but the faint background strings on Medical Display and vague stringy things heard briefly elsewhere sound little like a genuine M400 (or, indeed, any other model). I'm not even sure this should go into samples, but given that it's credited, I'll grudgingly make an exception. Incidentally, not only has some of Emmich's music been used in TV shows, but he's even acted in some. You have been warned.
Baltimore's Empire formed from the ashes of Basement Floor, apparently, almost certainly a covers outfit; while their debut, 1996's Driven By Rock, is all-original, the overwhelming feel of the album is 'bar band records own second-rate material'. Musical pointers? Midwest '70s rock, Bon Jovi, '80s Kiss. Sounds like your bag? Good luck. In fairness, many of the songs are as memorable as the material on lesser albums by major names, but this is music to drink by and bellow along to having done so. Vocalist Tim Miskimon is credited with Mellotron, amongst various other keys, but the flutes and not-very-Mellotronic strings on the balladic Do You Really Love Me and You Can't Stop Love (guess what: another ballad) sound more like the then-recently-released Roland sample set than anything. So; not one for anyone wishing to hear a real Mellotron, or, for that matter, anything more ambitious than bar-band material. And what, exactly, is with the 'jokey introduction to jokey country song' that ends the album? Amateur hour, guys.
Unfortunately, after 2012's not-too-bad Garage Hymns, Orphan, from all of two years later, sees Empires taking the king's shilling and aligning themselves with the indie mainstream, complete with worrying bursts of 'Bono vocal' from Sean Van Vleet. I'm not sure there are any 'best tracks', although material such as opener Silverfire, the title track and the gentler Lifers are typical of the album's overall style. Bobby Sparks is credited with Mellotron, but the chordal strings on Hostage and Stay Lonely and a suspiciously-speedy string line on Please Don't Tell My Lover whisper 'samples' to me, gently but insistently. Anyway, the album's nonsense, so I wouldn't worry about it (like you were).
Empty Days sit in the hinterland between the quietest end of progressive rock and ambient, making it all the more surprising that they manage to hold this listener's interest over the course of an hour-long album. Despite the Crimson reference on closer This Night Wounds Time (what d'you mean, you don't recognise it?), I wouldn't call the Crimson Kings an obvious influence. Occasional samplotron strings and choirs, but not the reason you should hear this.
Empyrium were the duo of Markus "Ulf T. Schwadorf" Stock and Andreas Bach, one of those European death metal offshoot bands of the kind that discover their inner dark, Germanic symphonic folk side (see: their offshoot Noekk). 2002's Weiland (presumably not a tribute to the 'legendary' Scott?) was their last album and second non-metal release, which, despite its on-off overly-gloomy approach, is actually a very listenable record, highlights including opener Kein Hirtenfeuer Glimmt Mehr, classical guitar duet Nebel, the lengthy Waldpoesie and Fossegrim, although the gothic male vocals (not to mention the very occasional metal grunting) on a few tracks doesn't work so well. Sample use is obvious from the off, the album opening with (realistic) 'Mellotron' flutes on Kein Hirtenfeuer Glimmt Mehr and a string part that drops well below its operating limits, with more strings on Heimwärts, although the rest of the album's string parts appear to be either synth or real. Overall, then, an album that probably takes itself a little too seriously for its own good, but if you don't mind a little pompousness and a dark prog/folk crossover sounds like it might appeal, you could do a lot worse.
Enchant's debut album, 1995's A Blueprint of the World (***½) is actually rather good, being progressive metal without sounding too much like Dream Theater, although displaying a noticeable Rush influence. Sadly, it seems that their own sound has slowly been subsumed over the years into 'prog-metal by numbers', at least going by 2000's Juggling 9 or Dropping 10, which displays few signs of a band attempting to progress in any manner whatsoever. No, it's not all bad, but it's extremely derivative (the first notes of opener Paint The Picture are copped almost directly from Rush's Xanadu, of all things), overlong and, I'm afraid to say, rather dull, with the tracks merging into one long widdle-fest, with guitarist Doug Ott showing off a few too many times. Forty minutes of this might be just about acceptable; over an hour approaches torture. Oddly, the rather surprising supposed Mellotron isn't played by keys man Mike Geimer, but by Ott and drummer Paul Craddick, with background strings on Bite My Tongue and something credited but entirely inaudible on Broken Wave. 'Strings' are credited on three tracks, too, but sound like real ones.
Two albums and three years later, Tug of War is, basically, more of the same, only fewer tracks spread over slightly more time, which is not a good thing. Far too many of Enchant's songs really don't have enough ideas to sustain their lengths, to be honest, although this album's best bits are generally better than Juggling 9's. I've also just realised: vocalist Ted Leonard's voice really grates after prolonged exposure - he sounds like he'd be just as happy in an AOR band; also not a good thing. New keyboard player Bill Jenkins doesn't get to play the samplotron any more than his predecessor, with Ott having another go on the naffly-titled Progtology on what are quite clearly rather poor Mellotron choir samples. 'Mellotron' indeed...
While no classic, 2014's The Great Divide is a rather better effort than the band's early 2000s work; more cohesive and less unoriginal, anyway. Best track? Possibly Deserve To Feel. Why? Not sure, but it seems to do slightly more with their fairly limited range of influences than the rest of the album. Ott's credited with Mellotron again, but all that's changed is that his samples have improved, with strings on Circles, the title track and possibly elsewhere.
I believe Enon were led by John Schmersal, a.k.a. John Stuart Mill, releasing six albums and a slew of singles in their decade of existence. Motor Cross is their second single, a mournful piece of low-fi drone, as is its flip, Burning The Bread. Indie, Jim, but not as we know it... Speaking of Jim, alt. hero Jim O'Rourke is credited with 'Melotron' on the flip, but the distant strings aren't even good samples, frankly. This stuff has its adherents; sadly, I am not among them.
Enslaved seem to be yet another Scandinavian metal band who have discovered that it's more interesting to be interesting, keeping a foot in both the extreme and progressive metal camps, as have Opeth and Spiritual Beggars, amongst others. The end result of this cross-fertilisation is a slightly uneasy compromise between silly 'cookie monster' vocals (no, you don't sound 'scary') and other black metal clichés and complex, progressive riffery with refreshingly unusual song structures, although they're probably too heavy to appeal to your 'trad' prog fan.
I believe Monumension is their sixth album, the band having been active through most of the '90s and the first to take this more progressive approach. There are no straightforward thrashers here, although they do slip into cliché territory every now and again. Most interesting track? Has to be closer Sigmundskvadet, which can only be described as, er, a Nordic tone poem with chanted vocals, 'tribal' drumming and octave guitar? Completely unique, anyway. Guest Dennis Reksten is credited with 'MiniMoog, vocoder, synths/effects', while the 'Mellotron' is apparently sampled, with flutes on Convoys To Nothingness and strings on The Voices, Hollow Inside and Smirr, although none of it sounds that convincing, to be honest.
2003's Below the Lights carries on in a similar vein, unfortunately still featuring those rather silly vocals, although every bit as good musically. Opener As Fire Swept Clean The Earth actually opens with a 'Mellotron' string part; heard solo like this, they're quite clearly samples, as can also be heard on Ridicule Swarm, sorting out the 'real/sample' debate for once and for all. The following year's Isa (would YOU name an album after a form of UK tax-free saving?), sadly, sounds like the band's 'fresh' approach is growing stale, with a plethora of pointless riffs blasting away like they were going out of fashion, but ultimately going nowhere fast. The only obvious 'Tron samples are the strings on Lunar Force, with most of the other string parts sounding like generic samples, all of which adds up to: if you're going to buy an Enslaved album, don't make it this one.
Unfortunately, 2006's Ruun strikes me as more like its immediate predecessor than the band's earlier work, although some of the intro riffs work well before the songs themselves kick in. Best track? Probably mid-paced, mostly instrumental closer Heir To The Cosmic Seed, featuring reasonably sensible vocals. The album actually opens with a samplotron string part, with more of the same on a couple of other tracks, notably Fusion Of Sense And Earth, plus vague, not-very-Mellotronic choirs in places. Some years on, 2011's The Sleeping Gods EP is a proper return to form, diverging from the expected on several tracks, including the ambient electronica of Synthesis, the (relatively) complex instrumental Nordlys and the dark, folkish title track. Not much samplotron, although strings turn up on the first two tracks.
Iowans The Envy Corps' second album, 2007's Dwell, would be an odious enough effort in its own right, but listening to it straight after Djam Karet's latest blinder really shows it up for the shower of shite it is. Vocalist/guitarist Luke Pettipoole's dulcet tones are not only frequently way off key (yeah, yeah, he's 'playing with the melody', or somesuch), but his infuriating falsetto and Bono-isms are enough to make one beat one's head against the wall. This kind of horrid, sub-sub-U2-esque indie really should be outlawed; I mean, who the fuck listens to this kind of crap? Party Dress is an especially bad example, but when the best I can say about an album is 'about twenty seconds of 99, 100 is almost worth hearing', you know you're in trouble. Pettipoole supposedly plays Mellotron, but the background strings on Keys To Good Living and 99, 100 and flutes on Rooftop (particularly the latter) sound little like the real thing. This is a fully hateful album, of the kind that makes the discerning listener fear for not only the future of music, but for his or her sanity.
Seemingly named for a Bathory 'song', Equimanthorn roots lie in the world of extreme metal, although what they do has progressed so far down that path that it's evolved out of the metal genre entirely. Their third album, Second Sephira Cella, is an intensely gothic work, without actually being 'goth', heavily influenced by Dead Can Dance, not least in the use of what sounds like a hammer dulcimer. More electronic than metal, singing isn't an issue here, all vocals being either chanted or intoned, while the instrumentation tends to be either modern synths or devices with their roots in the Middle East. Are you getting the picture? It's a shame the band seem determined to go for the 'Norwegian church burner' look, as it's bound to put potential non-metallic audience members off; at least they've dropped the corpsepaint... incidentally, every track title features a (sometimes lengthy) subtitle in parentheses, dropped here for the sake of brevity and common sense.
"Emperor Proscriptor Magikus" allegedly plays Mellotron and VCS3 (misspelt 'VC3' on the sleeve), amongst other devices, but what little 'Mellotron' appears on the album sounds somewhat sampled to my ears, with naught but a few string chords near the end of Refulgent Splendour (7 Conquerors And Their Multitude Part II). So; definitely interesting, certainly compared to the landfill's-worth of mainstream crud I seem to get through every few days, although also definitely not for everyone. Next to no 'Mellotron', either way.
Online investigation informs me that Equinox (hey, original name, guys) are death metal, as opposed to any other variety. This seems to consist of making like a heavier Judas Priest-cum-Metallica with entirely unthreatening growly vocals; each to their own, I suppose... At least the riffs actually sound like riffs, unlike some varieties of extreme metal. Equinox also do that Priest trick of two guitarists playing in different styles, one more 'tasteful' than the other (I use the term in its loosest possible sense). 2003's Journey Into Oblivion is their second album, assuming I'm not confusing them with other bands of the same name, notably one from Norway. It's... well, it's a death metal album, doing all the usual death metal things, blastbeats, widdly solos, slow (yet still heavy) bits, silly vocals. You get the picture. Unless you're actually into this stuff, I can't imagine anyone being able to pick out any one track for praise or condemnation, as they're all effectively the same, albeit with enough difference to keep genre fans happy. Howard Helm is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on a couple of tracks are clearly anything but, leaving a faint, yet seemingly Mellotronic choir part on The Remembrance as its only audible use. However, I'm quite sure it's sampled, so into quarantine it goes. Anyway, one for those who threw subtlety out of the window years ago, assuming they ever had any in the first place. Very silly.
Equus are a Swiss post-rock/prog/metal crossover outfit, if that makes any sense, whose debut, 2008's Eutheria (a genus of mammal, apparently) is essentially one long track, split into three to make it look less scary to the uninitiated, I suspect. It has moments of great beauty, particularly in the proggier parts (I preferred closer Epona to the rest of the album), but the downside is its sheer length; concentrating on something this ethereal for this long is actually fatiguing. I would imagine it's meant more as mood music, in a manner of speaking; allow it to drift over you and it's an excellent listen. David Mamie is credited with Mellotron, but I don't think I'd be wrong in labelling it sampled; most of its use is on thirty minute opener Hyracotherium, with a major string part six minutes in, a flute melody around ten minutes and some muted choir towards the end, with more strings near the beginning of Epona. So; one for prog fans looking for something more ambient or metalheads looking for something a lot more ambient. Borderline boring in places, but seems to do what it sets out to do.
I can't tell you an awful lot about Erdmöbel, as they're one of those continental Europe outfits who only really appeal to their home audience, so English-language info is hard to come by. I can tell you that they've been around since at least the mid-'90s, though and that 2005's Für die Nicht Wissen Wie seems to be a lounge tribute of some kind, including Bacharach & David's Close To You and Nothing To Lose by Henry Mancini, in German, which is a little weird. I can't say this especially appeals, to be honest; much of the band's own material is irredeemably cheesy, although I'd imagine that's the point, Farbe, Der Man Schwer Einen Namen Geben Konnte being a particularly bad example. Want to hear autotuned German? Thought not. Now, what exactly is credited here? Some sources have (Wolfgang) Proppe and Ekki "Ekimas" Maas playing Mellotron and some Mellophone. Huh? What we actually get is what sounds like sampled Mellotron strings on Was Ich An Deinem Nachthemd Schätze and flutes on Für Die Nicht Wissen Wie (2) and Nichts Zu Verlieren, all clustered together at the end of the album, for what it's worth. I can't honestly recommend this to any but Bacharach fans who have a strange yen to hear their deity's works sung in another language.
Ère G are the brainchild of Robin Gaudreault, who plays just about everything, drums excepted, on his debut album, Au-Delà des Ombres. By and large, he's influenced by '70s progressive outfits from his region (Harmonium, Morse Code et al.), although bits of neo-prog leak through occasionally and disconcertingly. Overall, though, the album's excellent, with inventive song structures and unexpected melodic interjections; what more could you ask for? I was actually fooled by the Mellotron samples (no!), until I read that he uses the M-Tron plug-in; very good at what it does, and holds up well without being buried in the mix, but there are plenty of working Mellotrons in Québec... Anyway, recommended, but can we have some real Mellotron next time round, M.Gaudreault?
Jörg Erren, Bert Fleißig, Jochen Schöttler and Christian Steffen carefully list their impressive synth setup on Night on Ouddorp, recorded at Ouddorp, in the Netherlands, despite the band all being German. It's a typical EM album in some ways, although the quartet understand dynamics in a way many of their contemporaries can only dream of, with quiet sections where it sounds like everyone's playing. Only quietly. If there's any samplotron here, it's buried under everything else.
New Yorker Mike Errico's second album, 1999's Pictures of the Big Vacation, informs the listener from the off that he'd end up writing music for TV, even before a quick Wikipedia check confirms it. Errico makes the kind of insipid, mainstream-friendly singer-songwriter guff that clogs up the ether, pushing more worthy artists to the margins with its lacklustre sentiments. Worst track? Hard to say, although the Christian message of God is fairly puke-inducing, while the occasional rockier effort (prime example: 7 Bottles Of Bristol Cream) does little to improve matters. Is there a best track? Possibly When She Walks By, Errico's rather premature rumination on ageing, although that isn't saying much. Rob Arthur (Danielia Cotton, Giant Sand) is credited with Mellotron, but are we supposed to believe that those squashy sampled strings on Sooner Or Later are genuine? And what does this say about Arthur's other half-dozen or so Mellotron credits? The strings on 1000 Miles are real, incidentally. This album seems a lot longer than its vinyl length, so with no actual Mellotron, that's a 'no'.
Etcetera (not to be confused with '70s Québecois Et Cetera), released two demo albums in 1998, following up with their first 'proper' release the year after, Fin de Siecle (properly fin de siècle: 'end of the century'). It's an eclectic effort, veering between choppy opener (and amusingly-titled) Charles' Unhealthy Pictures, the (fake?) Clavinet-driven Gongtric, which starts off as a dead ringer for Gentle Giant before shifting into (guess what?) a Gonglike jamming section, the dancey, synth-and-drum-machine Absolute Dance Party III and the album's best track, the Yes-ish Fin De Siecle itself. Guitarist/keyboard player Frank Carvalho (the band are only a trio) adds a vaguely Mellotronic string part to Infinite Chords, although the only major samplotron part is the skronky strings on the title track, so not exactly a major player on that front.
Their second album, Tales of Ardour & Deceit, is a damn' good slice of post-millennial prog, mostly influenced by the '70s 'greats'; Songs has a distinct Gentle Giant feel to it and the overall vibe is of a classy first-wave outfit with the odd modern bit thrown in to keep you on your toes. Much of the material's instrumental, although the vocal stuff's fine, too, while the instrumental work is excellent throughout. The band boast that they're 'the only active progressive rock unit in Denmark, as far as they know', to which I can say; almost the only full-on symphonic outfit I've ever heard from that country, although I don't know what Zaragon sound like. Carvalho gets a fair bit of Mellotron samples (although he owns an M400) down here, mostly strings, with particularly fine work on Lament and The Exit, but there's a brief flute part in Kentish Suite and some coruscating choirs on The Ghost Of Yang Pt.I, too.
Frank promised that he'd going to use his real M400 next time round, but I believe the band split the year after the release of Tales..., putting the kibosh on that one. Anyway, Tales... is the better of these albums, although both have their moments.
As I've already stated in my regular reviews, Norway's Kåre & the Cavemen formed around 1990, becoming the Euroboys in the late '90s for the international audience (good call: I can't imagine what most non-Scandinavians would make of the 'å'). 1999's Long Day's Flight 'Till Tomorrow is their third album and the last to be released under their original name for the Norwegian market, an overlong, '60s-inspired effort that succeeds despite its outrageous length. More notable tracks include eight-minute opener Deliverance, with its dreamy late '60s feel, Invisible Horse, featuring a full-on Doors-style organ solo, the borderline proggy (and superbly titled) Electric Dandruff and the ripping Ambulance Cruiser. I forgot to mention: the album's mostly instrumental, a rare vocal on 99° Degree (guys, that '°' symbol replaces the word 'degree') proving the point that they should leave the singing to someone else. Kåre Joáo Pedersen and Knut Schreiner are pleasantly honestly credited with Mellotron samples, although the only possible use I can spot is some faint strings on closer Gibraltar. And it took two of you to do this? Were it relevant, this would barely rate a half T, although the album itself is actually surprisingly good, certainly better than 2004's (supposed) Mellotron-containing Soft Focus.
Europe are, of course, remembered chiefly for the terrible The Final Countdown, their massive '86 hit, cheesy parping synth line and all. Casual listeners assumed it was from their debut, although those of us with our ears to the ground not only owned their first two albums, but hated the third with a passion, recognising a dog when we heard one. I knew they'd reformed after the obligatory '90s 'grunge hiatus', but I didn't know that original guitarist John Norum had rejoined; admittedly, he appeared on that terrible third record (although, to his credit, he wrote none of it and left during its tour), but that's also him on the deathless Stormwind and Wings Of Tomorrow from Wings of Tomorrow itself, mostly redeeming him.
2015's War of Kings is their fifth album since reforming (tenth overall) and is, would'ja believe, really rather good? Unlike some of their '80s contemporaries, they've pretty much put that hideous decade behind them, at least on record, making the kind of melodic-yet-not-overly-commercial hard rock that they'd probably have carried on doing, had the '80s not turned out the horrible way they did and they hadn't been sidetracked into bouffanted fame and fortune. Top tracks? Probably the title track, California 405 and the mini-epic Rainbow Bridge, but, to my astonishment, not one track here made me curl my lip in distaste. Well done, gentlemen. Going by a video I saw and now, infuriatingly, can't find (although I've unearthed a pic, right), long-term keys man Mic Michaeli plays one of the new Swedish hardware digital Mellotrons, the M4000D Mini, on the album. It crops up on most tracks, more overt use including the string and flute lines on Nothin' To Ya and the strings on Angels (With Broken Hearts), although his top use is the string line running through Rainbow Bridge.
A quick amusing (well, to me) anecdote to finish: having loved their first two albums, I foolishly expected them to play chunks of them on their first UK tour, in early '87, so bought a ticket for their Hammersmith gig. Urk. They opened with the predictable Final Countdown, then proceeded to run through the entirety of their new album over the course of a stupidly short set, only briefly diverging to play first album highlight Seven Doors Hotel, before winding up within the hour (!), doing their level best to avoid Wings of Tomorrow, although Setlist.fm assures me that they actually tackled three of its more commercial tracks in one form or another. Then they came back for an encore and... played The Final fucking Countdown again. Just to add insult to injury, this is the only gig I've ever attended filled with screaming girls; amusingly, one of them turned out to be my (far) future partner, in her mid-teens at the time. To add even further insult to injury, bootleg evidence revealed that they played some of the better second album material on the Swedish leg of the tour, before dropping it for everywhere else. Pah.
Words often used to describe Denmark's Euzen tend to include 'electronica', 'alt.' and 'trip hop', which pretty much saves me from having to come up with a description myself. 2011's Sequel is, unsurprisingly, the female-fronted outfit's second album, the kind of record that is roughly comparable to a backlit sheet of cardboard perforated with tiny pinholes: light comes shining through, but only in very small places. Which are? Er... Proggy opener The Great Escape, which fooled me into thinking this was going to be a good listen, Surreal Medley, which has its moments and Maria Franz' mock-medieval multi-overdubbed a capella vocal harmonies that close the record. Mellotron? Someone adds occasional string chords to Cruel All By Myself, although they're far too smooth to be genuine, so straight into samples this goes. Is it worth hearing? Depends on your tolerance for the above descriptors, I suppose. Most of it bored me shitless, although a compilation of all its good bits would make a nice single.
Eva & the Heartmaker are the Norwegian retro-pop duo of Eva Weel Skram and her husband, Thomas Stenersen, whose second album, 2009's Let's Keep This Up Forever, hovers on the edge of classic pop, but never quite manages to fully commit. Better tracks include Life Still Goes On and closer Possible Escape/Possible Mistake, but too many tracks are surrounded by the stale whiff of filler: Scando-pop-by-numbers. Børge Fjordheim is credited with Mellotron, but the overly-smooth strings (especially the initial ascending line) on Life Still Goes On are seriously bogus, at least to my ears. Although it's nowhere near as bad as many, I was hardly going to recommend this, anyway...
The Evan Anthem are an American Christian indie outfit, of the 'transcendental' persuasion, whose second album, 2005's Sens, is every bit as buttock-clenchingly bad as that suggests. If it has a highlight, it's that the lyrics are relatively indistinct and not too overtly God-bothering. That isn't really saying much in its favour, is it? OK, Dans Ce Moment's its least-bad track, which isn't saying much, either. The credited Mellotron choir samples on Some Truckstop from Rob Roy Fingerhead were never likely to convince; nor do they especially enhance this clunker of a record, I'm afraid.
Jessie Evans' Glittermine is a kind of off-the-wall electro/R&B record, mercifully brief, to be honest, although it's vastly preferable to the genre's more mainstream end, just clawing **½ out of me. One Toby Dammit adds choppily-played samplotron strings to opener Love Rules.
It seems Jace Everett started off as a country artist, but by his third album, 2009's Red Revelations, it seems he's nailed his colours to the rockabilly mast; OK, they're related styles, but going by the evidence here, a rather more distant relationship than many country fans have to each other. Difficult to pick out best tracks, but Everett's basso profundo and superb guitar twang are splattered over every track in a highly listenable way. Chris Raspante is credited with Mellotron, but as it's completely inaudible across the length and breadth of the album, I've no idea where. Anyway, I can't imagine it was ever going to be a top reason to buy this, although the music is. Well worth hearing. Incidentally, Everett's amused me by taking the piss out of evangelical Christians on his website. 'Rapture' my arse.
Autin's Evil Triplet are generally described as 'heavy psych', with which I find it difficult to argue, although they ramp the volume down on a couple of tracks on Otherworld. I'm not sure where Steve Marsh's admitted M4000D sample-player is, though, unless it's also providing the non-Mellotronic keyboard sounds. One complaint, however: length. I know you're committed to lengthy jams, guys, but over seventy minutes of them is about thirty too much. Less is more.
Evripidis Sabatis seems to have led a rather peripatetic life, moving from Athens to London, then on to Barcelona, where he assembled his ever-changing Tragedies. His/their second album, 2011's A Healthy Dose of Pain, almost defies categorisation, incorporating elements of pre-psych '60s pop, fey '90s indie and pre-rock'n'roll popular musics, an obvious touchstone being Scotland's Belle & Sebastian (they even borrow one of their lyrics for the title track). Does anything here stand out at all? I Always Cry At Weddings amusingly incorporates the Wedding March, in true Rocky Horror style, but the bulk of the album's contents are more likely to appeal to fey indie types than anyone else. Sabatis gets a general 'Mellotron' credit, while Juanjo Alba supposedly plays it on Waves To Ride, to all of which I can only say, "You effin' kiddin', mate?" I struggle to even work out what samples might've been used, not to mention where, but the chances of a genuine Mellotron being used at the sessions is infinitessimal, frankly. So; Belle & Sebastian and Scott Walker fans might wish to give this a go, but the rest of you should probably take the proverbial raincheck.
Ex Norwegian are nothing of the sort, apparently getting their name from a Monty Python sketch (uselessly, I can't recall which one). 2009's Standby is their first album, a pleasing mélange of powerpop and psychedelic styles, just for once not immediately traceable to the mid-to-late '60s, making them that rarest of things in the loosely 'retro' field: a band with their own voice. Also a band with great, memorable songs, something that's in short supply in their chosen genre(s); too many bands settle for getting the sound right, then thinking about the material later, if at all. Top tracks? Well, they're all good, but the riff on Fresh Pit is to die for, while Add Vice features several hooks on various instruments, not least voice. Roger Houdaille plays self-confessed samplotron, although the strings on Don't Bother have an especially 'real' feel, going by the hanging chord at the end of the track. We also get wispy choirs on Pow3rfull, strings on Sudeki Lover and another exceptionally pseudo-'real' part on Add Vice, alongside a snarling analogue synth, with more strings elsewhere. A real treat for those who value quality songwriting over image or flash, then, although I'm not so sure about the Beatles steal on Gross You...
2010's Sketch is more of the same, essentially, although somehow it's slightly less appealing than before. Over-exposure? Dunno, but it hasn't grabbed me in quite the same way. And why the horrible Autotune on rather cheesy closer Tired Of Dancing? Plenty of samplotron from Houdaille again, with background strings on opener Jet Lag and Mind Down, more upfront ones on Sky Diving and Seconds, brass on Turn Left and flute and cello (?) on Acting On An Island. 2012's amusingly-titled House Music picks things up again, its overall sense of joie de vivre making an oh-so welcome change from the usual raft of indie miserablists. Highlights? Opener Ginger, Baby's subtle key changes lift an already excellent song, while Choice Of Friend matches it on the quality front. Plenty of samplotron, with choirs and strings on Ginger, Baby, high strings on Not A Mouse, background strings on Initiative Rock, upfront strings on Choice Of Friend and Rearrange It and ludicrously over-stretched strings on Tong As In Pete. The following year's Crack, while a fine album, seems to lack its predecessor's high points, although material such as opener Your Own Swing, Aventura and The Faces Demo Heads cut them close. Little samplotron this time round, with naught but background strings on Aventura and Done, plus strings and brass on The Faces Demo Heads.
Having not heard their interim releases, the modern-indieness of 2014's Wasted Lines comes as a bit of a shock, the larger part of their powerpop/psych past all but gone. Better tracks include the driving, melodic All The Time, First Time and It's Too Late, although too many tracks fall into the 'generic trap', which may, perversely, increase the album's chances of success. Houdaille's samplotron use is largely fairly buried, with background strings on Be There, more of the same (with what sounds like interesting tuning issues, strangely) on Much Rooms, Unstoppable, Only The Clues, Unfair To Compare and Love Is, with occasional strident strings on First Time, although I'm not hearing any other sounds utilised. I'm sorry to mark Ex Norwegian's latest down on both counts, but I'm afraid I'm not hearing the sheer joy of their earlier releases.
2015's self-released semi-covers release Pure Gold is a return to form, thankfully. 'Semi-covers'? To quote the album's press kit, "Pure Gold consists of 11 tracks with the majority being re-interpretations of slightly obscure songs by artists like The Shirts, Melanie, String Driven Thing/Bay City Rollers, Paul McCartney". Although it's fun playing 'spot the cover', I rather wish the band had been slightly more specific, forcing me to track the information down on their website. For what it's worth, they are:
Obscure enough for ya? Highlights include It's A Game, Asking Too Much, Beeside, Tell Me Your Plans and the band's own Pure Gold, making for an odd, yet satisfying compromise. Once again, somewhat sparse on the sample front, with rather obviously sampled strings on the title track and flutes on Tell Me Your Plans.
Extol's fifth, eponymous album utilises influences from not only their extreme metal background, but also from the prog metal field, combining black metal growling with impeccable three-part harmonies in a slightly (and doubtless deliberately) unsettling kind of way. Think: early Opeth meets King's X or the Galactic Cowboys, another connection being the band's Christianity, although you'd be hard-pushed to tell by listening, so don't let that put you off. Ole Børud is credited with Mellotron, but if that means the vague choir sound at the end of Open The Gates, forget it.
Eyestrings are (or possibly were) essentially a Discipline side-project, featuring two members of that outfit and mainman Matthew Parmenter's nephew Ryan, running the show. Their debut, 2004's Burdened Hands, shifts between slightly Spock's Beard-esque 'modern prog' and a quirkier, more Gentle Giant/Van der Graaf-influenced form of progressive rock, other influences including Styx and more straightforward rock on a couple of tracks. Highlights? Anachronism and Funnel are particularly strong, although I'll probably skip over Itchy Tickler, Slackjaw and Time Will Tell next time I play this. Parmenter is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Dead Supermen give the sample game away immediately, with more of the same on Slackjaw and Empty Box, plus choirs here and there.
Second (last?) time round, the following year's Consumption, manages, paradoxically, to be both more and less adventurous simultaneously. Huh? Two lengthy, multi-part pieces give the band room to stretch out compositionally, but when they do, the end result, while still good, seems to lack their debut's je ne sais quoi, although it's definitely more consistent. Suffice to say, on some levels, it's as good as Burdened Hands, but it didn't quite grab my attention in the same way. And I'm not sure rhyming 'toilet' with 'spoil it' was a good idea, either. Or was it meant humorously? Far more samplotron this time round (and better samples), with string and choir parts dotted across the record, still not actually sounding real.